MI5 boss: Iran has ambition to kill or kidnap British residents

Director General Ken McCallum warns of 'very real threat' posed by Tehran and other hostile states

MI5 Director General Ken McCallum speaks at Thames House in central London. PA
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Iran wants to kidnap or kill Britons it sees as “enemies of the regime”, the head of MI5 has said, with at least 10 such potential threats surfacing so far this year.

MI5 Director General Ken McCallum warned that Tehran “projects a threat to the UK directly through its aggressive intelligence services”.

In a speech from the security agency’s London headquarters on Wednesday, Mr McCullum spoke of the “very real” threat posed by hostile states including Russia, China and Iran.

Mr McCullum emphasised the danger from Iran, which he described as “the state actor which most frequently crosses into terrorism” and remains a “profoundly destabilising actor in its region and beyond”.

Since January, UK intelligence services have thwarted at least 10 specific threats against dissidents living in Britain “who don’t toe the line.”

British spy agencies work “at pace with domestic and international partners to disrupt this completely unacceptable activity”, he said.

“The Foreign Secretary made clear to the Iranian regime just last week that the UK will not tolerate intimidation or threats to life towards journalists, or any individual, living in the UK”.

Protests against the Iranian regime have sprung up around the world following the death of Mahsa Amini. Reuters.

The current wave of protests in Iran is asking “fundamental questions” of its regime, he said. He added that this could “signal profound change”, but conceded that the trajectory remained uncertain.

In a wide-ranging speech, Mr McCallum said that while rising state threats are a “huge challenge”, getting ahead of terror plots was “still the first thing the British public expect of us”.

Drawing on a football analogy to hammer home his concerns, Mr McCallum said Russia “thinks nothing of throwing an elbow in the face, and routinely cheats to get its way”.

“They will keep attacking us,” he said.

Although he stressed Russian President Vladimir Putin is “not winning” the war in Ukraine, Mr McCallum said: “The serious point is that the UK must be ready for Russian aggression for years to come.

More than 600 Russian officials have been expelled from Europe since February, with more than 400 judged to be spies.

This “struck the most significant strategic blow against the Russian intelligence services in recent European history,” Mr McCallum said, though he added: “We shouldn’t be complacent.”

Chinese authorities are “trying to rewrite the rule book, to buy the league, to recruit our coaching staff to work for them”, while Iran “will only let people support one team and is prepared to use violence against those who don’t toe the line”.

“We’re alive to the risk of these teams loaning players to each other, amplifying their strengths,” he added, highlighting how Iran is providing support to Russia by supplying drones “inflicting misery in Ukraine”.

MI5 and the police have disrupted 37 late-stage terror attack plots since the start of 2017, including a further eight since Mr McCallum gave his last update on threats in July last year.

Security services are seeing growing attempts by right-wing extremists to “acquire weapons”, particularly firearms, “well in advance of any specific targeting intent developing”, Mr McCallum said.

There are also growing numbers of right-wing extremist “influencers” who “fuel grievances and amplify conspiracy theories”.

Updated: November 16, 2022, 8:45 PM