MI5 has managed to foil 31 "late-stage" terror attacks over four years – but warned the threat in the UK remains "a real and enduring thing".
Security chiefs believe we are closer to "another 9/11" – ahead of the anniversary of the terror attack this weekend – after a surge in sadistic attack plots.
The secret service's director general Ken McCallum warned of their growing concerns as more extremists groups emerge.
"We do face a consistent global struggle to defeat extremism and to guard against terrorism – this is a real problem," the MI5 boss told the BBC's Today programme.
"In the last four years, working with the police, my organisation has disrupted 31 late-stage attack plots in Great Britain.
"That number includes mainly Islamist attack plots but also a growing number of attack plots from right-wing terrorists."
And not even Covid could stop radicals from hatching plans to carry out their sick missions.
"Even during the pandemic period which we have all been enduring for the past two years, we have had to disrupt six late-stage attack plots," Mr McCallum said.
"So, the terrorist threat to the UK, I am sorry to say is a real and enduring thing."
Despite more directed plots from terrorist organisations taking longer periods of time to arrange and carry out, the MI5 boss said psychological boosts for their ideals can happen "overnight".
"Terrorist threats tend not to change overnight in the sense of directed plotting or training camps or infrastructure – the sorts of things that al Qaeda enjoyed in Afghanistan at the time of 9/11," he explained.
"These things do inherently take time to build, and the 20-year effort to reduce the terrorist threat from Afghanistan has been largely successful.
"But what does happen overnight, even though those directed plots and centrally organised bits of terrorism take a bit longer to rebuild…
"Overnight, you can have a psychological boost, a morale boost to extremists already here, or in other countries.
The terrorist threat to the UK, I am sorry to say is a real and enduring thing.
"So we need to be vigilant both for the increase in inspired terrorism, which has become a real trend for us to deal with over the last five to 10 years, alongside the potential regrowth of al Qaeda-style directed plots."
Recent years have seen a worrying increase of terror attacks in the UK, including Lee Rigby's murder, the Manchester Arena bombing and the Finsbury Park attack.
A top British cop also revealed detectives foiled a horror terror plot echoing the September 11 attack, back in 2006.
Detective Chief Superintendent Kevin Southworth said the terror nuts planned to smuggle hydrogen peroxide onto the jets in Oasis and Lucozade bottles before making small bombs to blow a hole in the fuselage and bring down the planes.
DCS Southworth told how the full details of the huge operation to smash the "liquid bombers" were even kept from senior officers until the 11th hour.
It prompted the largest surveillance operation the Metropolitan Police and MI5 have ever launched – which saw them thwart a plot to seven transatlantic passenger planes leaving London in a 9/11-style atrocity.
In the wake of the revelation, Mr McCallum said it was "difficult to give a simplistic answer" if the UK was safer or not since back in 2001 when al Qaeda smashed into the Twin Towers.
The intelligence agency chief continued: "What has happened across those two decades is that on the day of 9/11 we faced a large, well-funded organisation in al Qaeda with a safe haven and we had to play catch-up in a dramatic way.
"BACK INTO A DARK PERIOD"
"Five years after 9/11 we were still facing plots of that magnitude.
"We, with others, worked deeply and ferociously hard to reduce that style of risk from al Qaeda.
"The number of plots that we disrupt nowadays are actually higher than the number of plots that were coming at us after 9/11, but on average they are smaller plots of lower sophistication," he said.
He believes the rise of the Taliban will have "heartened and emboldened" some extremists – so the UK security service and its partners would plan for the chance that "more risk, progressively may flow our way".
As well as this, the former chief of the UK defence staff echoed Mr McCallum's concerns and warned the withdrawal of Brit and American troops from Afghanistan has "pitched us back into a dark period".
General Lord Richards told LBC: "I fear the Taliban and some extremist jihadist groups are, whatever they like to say, in each other's pockets, scores will be settled, debts will have to be repaid and there will be ungoverned space opened up in Afghanistan which those groups will exploit and the ability of the Taliban to actually manage them will be minimal.
"I think we are [closer to another 9/11]. We've now been pitched back into a dark period which we somehow have to manage."
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