A group of core al-Qaeda terrorists in Syria is planning “mass casualty attacks” against the West, the head of MI5 has warned.
As dramatic events surrounding the terrorist attack at the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris continue to unfold, Andrew Parker, director general of the Security Service, said transport networks and iconic landmarks were among Western targets of “complex and ambitious plots” by Syria-based extremists.
Aviation bomb plots and Mumbai-style shootings in crowded places are thought to be among plans being developed by the shadowy group, which has Britain among its sights.
It is understood the organisation in question is the so-called “Khorasan” cell, which is made up of jihadists sent to Syria by al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Addressing about 70 members of the Royal United Services Institute at MI5 headquarters, Parker said: “We still face more complex and ambitious plots that follow the now sadly well-established approach of al Qaeda and its imitators – attempts to cause large scale loss of life, often by attacking transport systems or iconic targets.
“We know, for example, that a group of core al Qaeda terrorists in Syria is planning mass casualty attacks against the West.”
Mr Parker says around 600 extremists are now among many Britons who have travelled to Syria, higher than previous estimates of 500, and a significant proportion has joined the extremist group IS.
He disclosed that in recent months three UK terrorist plots, which would have led to deaths, have been foiled by MI5 and its intelligence partners at MI6 and GCHQ.
It is understood the plots were a mix of mass casualty attacks and lone-wolf style killings as seen on the streets of Woolwich when Fusilier Lee Rigby was killed in 2013.