As reported by The Daily Telegraph in an article bearing a title that speaks for itself ("Arab Spring provided new breeding ground for British terrorists – spy chief"), Jonathan Evans said the terror network has taken advantage of the unstable region of Middle East and North Africa, in the wake of last year’s revolutions, to spread its influence and create new bases for attacks. British would-be jihadis are known to be receiving training in countries like Libya and Egypt, mirroring what has already happened in Yemen and Somalia. They could return to attack the UK, and "this is a new and worrying development," he said.
"Today parts of the Arab world have once more become a permissive environment for Al Qaeda. This is the completion of a cycle – Al Qaeda first moved to Afghanistan in the 1990s due to pressure in their Arab countries of origin. They moved on to Pakistan after the fall of the Taliban. And now some are heading home to the Arab world again," the paper quotes Mr. Evans as saying.
Mr. Evans did not specifically mention how many Britons had gone to the region, but, according to The Guardian, it is believed MI5 has monitored more than 100 who have attempted to link up with extremists in countries such as Yemen, Egypt, Syria and Libya.
Reiterating the claim that in the long-term, more democracy (allegedly brought to the region by the "Arab spring") should "ease some of the pressures that have spawned extremism in the region", the MI5 head nevertheless had to acknowledge that in the short-term, with the Arab world in radical transition, this "more immediate problem has emerged".
Definitely, most of Mr. Evans rhetoric was aimed at increasing public vigilance on the eve of London Olympics. According to him, since 9/11, Britain has "experienced a credible terrorist attack plot about once a year," and the Olympic Games are sure to be an "attractive target for our enemies." But, "the games are not an easy target, and the fact that we have disrupted multiple terrorist plots here and abroad in recent years demonstrates that the UK as a whole is not an easy target for terrorism," he added.
Sure, an attempt by the UK counterintelligence chief to brace himself and his agency for the growing threats and challenges on the eve of the Olympics is easily understandable. But several theses put forward by Mr. Evans seem to divert the public's attention to wrong targets and obscure the real reasons for the growing terrorist threat – and not only to London Olympics, but to the whole world.
The Telegraph states that it is the "Arab Spring" that provides the breeding ground for terrorists. Let's not even look back in history as far as 1980s when Al Qaeda and its leader Osama bin Laden were created by the CIA and its proxies in Afghanistan in order to have a powerful tool to fight the Soviets. Let's have a look at post-9/11 history.
There has never been any credible evidence linking Afghan Taliban to the 9/11 attacks. The only possible link there could be found was the fact that the former CIA minion bin Laden was taking refuge in Taliban-controlled areas.
Still, instead of looking for real instigators of the attacks, the U.S. (and its allies, including the UK) chose the easiest possible target and started their operation in Afghanistan. What it resulted in is too well known. Apart from bin Laden's elimination, none of the proclaimed goals have been achieved. The terrorist activity only multiplied, and the operation in Afghanistan led to dissemination of terrorism to vast regions covering the Middle East, North and parts of East Africa.
Then came the "Arab Spring". The revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa were full-heartedly supported by the West – sometimes, as in the case of Libya, with direct military participation. The result is also becoming obvious – and the recent victory of an Islamist candidate in Egypt is just the mildest example. The region became a real hub for the most extreme and radical forms of Islamism. And the more pressure the West is exerting on the events there, the more radicalized the local population becomes – see the above mentioned Yemen.
So, it is not the "Arab Spring" as such that provided the breeding ground for terrorists. They were created and bred by the West itself, and lamenting now that the children have turned their guns against their parents is probably too late.
But Mr. Evans does not seem to have learned too much from previous experience. What is most troubling in his speech is a reference to Iran. "A return to State-sponsored terrorism by Iran or its associates... cannot be ruled out as pressure on the Iranian leadership increases," said the MI5 chief.
Well, who ever hag heard of "Iranian terrorism" (except some anti-government groups)? But Mr. Evans may be right – while the pressure on the Iranian leadership increases, this may well lead to results similar to those already achieved in the Arab world and Afghanistan.
Will this prevent the West from going ahead? Hardly so.
Boris Volkhonsky, senior research fellow, Russian Institute for Strategic Studies