LONDON, (AP) – British anti-terror officials are monitoring 30 terrorism plots and some 2,000 people as the threat against the country continues to grow, Britain’s Home Secretary said in a newspaper interview.
Jacqui Smith’s warning came as she argued for an extension to the amount of time authorities are allowed to hold terror suspects without charge.
“We now face a threat level that is severe. It’s not getting any less, it’s actually growing,” Smith told The News of The World tabloid in an interview published Sunday. “There are 2,000 individuals they (police and security agencies) are monitoring. There are 200 networks. There are 30 active plots.”
Smith said the figures represented an increase over the past two years, though the leadership of Britain’s domestic spy agency, MI5, gave similar numbers in recent years.
In 2006, Eliza Manningham-Buller, the then-head of MI5, said officials knew of about 30 terror plots and were keeping 1,600 suspects under surveillance. The number of suspects was revised to 2,000 in 2007 by Jonathan Evans, the current head of MI5.
Smith faces an uphill battle to persuade lawmakers to pass a law allowing police to hold terror suspects up to 42 days without charge. Such suspects can currently be held up to 28 days.
She has often invoked the growing threat of terrorism — and the increasing complexity of terror plots — to justify the time extension.
But the proposal is fiercely opposed by civil libertarians and even some members of her own ruling Labour Party.
Tony Blair was handed his first parliamentary defeat as prime minister in 2005 when lawmakers rejected his plan to increase the limit to 90 days, settling on a compromise of 28 days. Some analysts have suggested the current prime minister, Gordon Brown, could also founder in his attempt to extend the limit.
But Smith said the extra time was necessary.
“Since the beginning of 2007, 57 people have been convicted on terrorist plots. Nearly half of those pleaded guilty, so this is not some figment of the imagination,” she told the newspaper.
“It is a real risk, and a real issue we need to respond to,” she said.