Britain raises terror threat level to severe Alice Ritchie AFP From: AAP January 23, 2010 4:54PM
BRITAIN has raised its terror threat level from substantial to severe with the Home Secretary warning that an attack was "highly likely".
The change comes just weeks after a failed plane bombing in the United States, and days ahead of two major international conferences on Yemen and Afghanistan in London.
"The Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre has today raised the threat to the UK from international terrorism from substantial to severe," Home Secretary Alan Johnson said early today.
"This means that a terrorist attack is highly likely, but I should stress that there is no intelligence to suggest than an attack is imminent."
In a television statement shortly afterwards, Mr Johnson refused to say whether the change in the threat level - to the fourth in a five-level scale - was linked to the failed Detroit plane bombing on December 25.
"We never say what the intelligence is and it would be pretty daft of us to do that," he said, adding: "It shouldn't be thought to be linked to Detroit or anywhere else for that matter."
He said the JTAC, a unit within the MI5 domestic intelligence agency, "looks at all factors and no one should draw any assumptions from this".
The increased threat level meant that Britain would put "more resources in, we heighten the state of vigilance", he said.
In a statement issued by his office, Mr Johnson insisted the threat level, which has been made public on MI5's website since August 2006, was kept "under constant review".
The terrorism analysis centre "makes its judgments based on a broad range of factors, including the intent and capabilities of international terrorist groups in the UK and overseas", he said.
Mr Johnson said Britain continued to face a "real and serious threat" from international terrorism and urged the public to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activities to the authorities.
The threat level was last at severe on July 20, 2009, when it was downgraded to "substantial", suggesting an attack remains a "strong possibility".
Prime Minister Gordon Brown during the week reiterated the threats Britain faced as he unveiled new security measures sparked by the attempt to blow up the US passenger jet flying into Detroit, which has been claimed by al-Qaeda.
"We know that a number of terrorist cells are actively trying to attack Britain and other countries," he told the House of Commons.
Mr Brown said the "crucible of terrorism" was based on the Afghan-Pakistan border, but noted how the failed Detroit attack also highlighted the threat posed by militants in Yemen.
The alleged bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, had reportedly trained in Yemen. He had also studied in London for three years as an undergraduate.
Britain has organised a meeting to strengthen international support for Yemen in its efforts against al-Qaeda, to take place in London this week before a high-level conference on Afghanistan.
There have been numerous attempted attacks on Britain in recent years, as well as the successful one on July 7, 2005, when four suicide bombers attacked the London transport system, killing themselves and 52 others.
Since the threat levels have been made public, they have twice briefly been raised to the top "critical" level, meaning an attack was imminent.
The first time was on August 10, 2006, after a series of arrests linked to a plot to down trans-Atlantic aircraft, and the second on June 30, 2007, at the time of failed attacks in London and Glasgow.
The two lower threat levels are "moderate", indicating an attack is possible but not likely, and "low", meaning that an attack is considered unlikely.