The Cable

New MI6 Chief: Terrorism Threat to U.K. ‘Unprecedented’

Why the threat from abroad leaves the new MI6 head shaken and stirred.

ukterror

Well, that’s not exactly “keep calm and carry on.”

In his first public speech as the head of MI6, Alex Younger said on Thursday the United Kingdom was facing an “unprecedented” terror threat coming primarily from places like Iraq and Syria.

That international terror is a threat is not exactly new, although Younger’s assertion does seem to run counter to U.S. President Barack Obama’s recent remarks in Tampa that “core al Qaeda — the organization that hit us on 9/11 — is a shadow of its former self,” and that the “bottom line is we are breaking the back” of the Islamic State. However, the Brookings Institute’s Lawfare reported in April that “the United States is likely to remain safer than its European counterparts, if only because it is simply far easier for terrorists to attack Europe.” So perhaps the two men’s statements are not, after all, at odds.

What is new and notable, however, is that Younger also warned against what Russia’s alliance with Syrian President Bashar al Assad might bring about.

“In defining as a terrorist anyone who opposes a brutal regime, they alienate precisely that group that has to be onside if the extremists are to be defeated.” He added that the terror threat from the region will not end until the Syrian civil war does.

This perhaps sheds some light on the timing of the speech, which comes but a few weeks before President-elect Donald Trump takes office. Russian President Vladimir Putin is an Assad ally. On Monday, Russia voted against a UN Security Council ceasefire in Aleppo for the sixth time. Trump has repeatedly said that he wants to work with Putin to defeat international terrorism.

From across the pond, Younger told him today that that is not possible.

Photo credit: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering ambassadorial and diplomatic affairs in Washington. @emilyctamkin

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