Ex-MI6 boss warns UK terror threat is now a 'notch greater'

Ex-MI6 boss warns UK terror threat is now a 'notch greater'

September 1, 2021

Ex-MI6 boss warns UK terror threat is now a ‘notch greater’ because of exit from Afghanistan as he says the Taliban will have to ‘take up arms’ against ISIS to work with the West

  • Ex-MI6 boss Sir John Sawers said terror threat to UK is now a ‘notch greater’
  • He said the Taliban regime must ‘close down operational space’ for terror groups
  • Also said Taliban will have to ‘take up arms’ against Isis to secure help from West

The former head of MI6 has warned the terror threat facing the UK is now a ‘notch greater’ after the West’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. 

Sir John Sawers, who was chief of the Secret Intelligence Service between 2009 and 2014, said the new Taliban regime will have to show it is willing to crackdown on terror groups if it is to establish working relationships with the US and UK. 

He suggested funding and aid for Afghanistan will only be offered if the Taliban ‘close down operational space for terrorist groups inside the country’. 

That will mean the group having to ‘take up arms’ against ISIS and other extremists, he said.   

His comments came after it emerged British officials have opened talks with the Taliban about getting UK citizens and allies out of Afghanistan. 

Sir John Sawers, who was chief of the Secret Intelligence Service between 2009 and 2014, said the new Taliban regime will have to show it is willing to crackdown on terror groups if it is to establish working relationships with the US and UK

The UK completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan at the weekend with the US following suit at the start of this week 

Special envoy Sir Simon Gass, the chair or the Joint Intelligence Committee, met senior representatives of the group in Qatar to try to secure safe passage for those left behind following the chaotic military withdrawal. 

Officers from MI6 also met the militia group, while the head of MI6 Richard Moore flew to Islamabad for talks with the head of the Pakistani army.  

Downing Street confirmed ‘broad discussions’ with the Taliban had got under way.  

Asked if the chaos in Afghanistan could lead to terror groups moving or expanding there, Sir John told Sky News: ‘Your correspondent referred to talks taking place in Doha, visits to Pakistan by my successor as chief of MI6 and I think these talks will focus first of course on securing safe passage for Afghans who we want to get out but actually the longer term position of how will this Taliban control Afghanistan?

‘Will they be prepared as they were back in 2001 to allow terrorist groups like Al Qaeda to operate out of Afghanistan?

‘It is absolutely clear that any international engagement with the Taliban and support for the Afghan people will depend upon the Taliban closing down operational space for terrorist groups inside the country.

‘They will have influence over Al Qaeda and some other groups. They will have to take up arms against groups like Islamic State which were responsible for the attacks on Kabul Airport in the last week.

‘So it is not going to be straight forward and there’s some difficult decisions for the Taliban to take and what these talks will be doing will be to try to get them in the right place for them to realise it is in their interests for them to close down any space, any opportunity for terrorist groups to operate out of Afghanistan.’ 

Sir John was asked if he believes the UK is now less safe and he replied: ‘I do think the terrorist threat is a notch greater today than it was when we were able to operate in Afghanistan and that is for two reasons.

Boris Johnson’s special representative for Afghan transition, Simon Gass (pictured), entered talks with senior Taliban leaders 

‘I think first because of the risk that we will not be able to monitor terrorist groups and take action against them in Afghanistan itself.

‘But I think perhaps the more immediate risk is that those extreme Islamists, violent people who take inspiration from the Taliban success in Afghanistan, might take it into their hands to carry out attacks.

‘Most of the attacks we have had in this country over the last five or 10 years have been home grown terrorists.

‘They have not been directed out of Afghanistan and I think the security services will be looking again at radical groups in this country to make sure that they are not planning any further attacks to, if you like, mark the success of the Taliban in Afghanistan.’      

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