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Britain faces fresh terror threat as Israel-Hamas war ‘radicalises young people’, ex-MI6 boss fears

23 November 2023, 18:01 | Updated: 23 November 2023, 18:10

Sir Alex Younger said that Iran's influence could be driving radicalisation
Sir Alex Younger said that Iran's influence could be driving radicalisation. Picture: LBC/Alamy

By Kit Heren

Britain could undergo a rise in terror incidents over the next four years because of Iranian influence on pro-Palestine protests, a former head of MI6 has said.

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Sir Alex Younger told LBC's Andrew Marr that he is worried about the radicalising effect Iranian influence may be causing among young people in UK.

Hundreds of thousands of people have protested on the streets of London every Saturday since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas, a terror group that is sponsored by Iran. Most people have been peaceful, but intelligence agencies have warned that Iran may be seeking to sow discord via the marches.

Sir Alex, who ran the UK's foreign intelligence agency from 2014-2020, said domestic terrorism was "a very subtle phenomenon" with "a whole range of factors in operation".

"I think people who are experiencing this [Iranian influence], young people, are going to be confused and disorientated," he said.

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Former MI6 Chief worries about 'radicalisation' of UK youth

"And I worry, frankly, about the levels of radicalisation that this is driving – indeed I know it is driving high levels of radicalisation.

"So that’s not so much about now, but it’s about three or four years' time when the threats we might face as a result of this [come up].

The demonstrations have caused political divisions in the UK, especially when one was scheduled for Armistice Day.

Suella Braverman was sacked as Home Secretary after writing an explosive article in the Times in which she said the pro-Palestine marches represented "an assertion of primacy" by extremists, and criticised police.

Pro-Palestinian activists in London
Pro-Palestinian activists in London. Picture: Getty

Sir Alex added that the threat of growing radicalisation "does require mature, deft, patient and considered political leadership when we talk about this, basically designed to take the heat out of what we see in front of us."

He said that Britain should not be "complacent" about the threat posed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

Former MI6 chief Sir Alex Younger speaks to Andrew Marr

But he added that "in practice, most Iranian security and intelligence activity is aimed at their own dissidents".

Sir Alex said that getting rid of Iranian influence in the UK would not solve the problem of radicalisation, although Tehran would "undoubtedly" be "very satisfied with the polarisation this is causing in our country and elsewhere".

Sir Alex earlier this year
Sir Alex earlier this year. Picture: Alamy

"And, in fact, Iran is fundamentally the winner in all of this," he said.

Sir Alex also addressed the reinstatement of David Cameron to the Cabinet, seven years after standing down as Prime Minister.

Lord Cameron was well-known for his political openness to China during his premiership, even photographed having a pint with Xi Jinping at an English pub.

These links have since been criticised as relations with China have cooled in the intervening years.

Sir Alex said that Lord Cameron's Downing Street tenure was "a different time".

"I imagine you’ve changed these past 10 years, I certainly have," he told Andrew.

David Cameron and Xi Jinping drink beer at a pub in Princes Risborough in 2015
David Cameron and Xi Jinping drink beer at a pub in Princes Risborough in 2015. Picture: Getty

"So I would imagine – I haven’t discussed it with him – his views will now be very different," he said of the Foreign Secretary. "That’s not a sign of inconsistency; the world has moved on.

My vantage point is different. I’m brought up in the covert world. History never ended in the covert world. It wasn’t axiomatic to us that democracy had won. Our enemies definitely didn’t get the memo. We’ve been on the frontline of a sort-of ideological confrontation, more or less since the beginning of the century.

"So, I think it’s sort-of overstating it that there was a wide-spread buy-in to the idea that China would become more like us as it got rich. I don’t think that’s true.

"By the way Xi Jingping is very keen that it isn’t true."

Sir Alex said that the UK's policy towards China should be varied, not binary.

David Cameron
David Cameron. Picture: Alamy

"In some areas we should compete with them. When we see them playing with our democracy and national security: we contest that. We contest it.

"In other areas, particularly when it comes to a maelstrom of emerging technology, let us understand that whoever gets there first is going to be in a pretty unassailable position. We need to compete like hell in that area.

"And in other areas, we need to cooperate. China is a huge fact. It’s one planet, two systems. We need to be able to work together on pandemic, disease, global warming, how the global economy works. That’s a conversation.

"In your personal life, I’m sure, you have lots of relationships where you contest, compete, and cooperate. I don’t understand why we can’t do that at a strategic level."

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