UK terror arrests reach highest level since 9/11

Terror-related arrests in the UK have reached levels not seen since the aftermath of the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks, Scotland Yard has revealed, as police have stepped up their response to the threat of radicalised jihadis returning to Britain from the Middle East.

Mark Rowley, assistant commissioner at the Metropolitan Police, confirmed on Thursday that 700 potential terror suspects are now estimated to have travelled to Syria to fight with Islamic State, and around half of these are now back in the UK.

Mr Rowley said these travellers were of "significant concern" to police and security services.

"They are not aid workers or visiting relatives - they are people of real concern that they are getting involved in fighting or are supportive of it. They are potential terrorist suspects," he said.

The assistant commissioner also quoted new figures showing that suspected terrorists are being arrested across England, Scotland and Wales at a rate of almost one a day.

According to Scotland Yard, 338 people were detained on suspicion of terrorism offences in 2014/15 - a one-third rise compared with the previous year.

Of these arrests, more than half were related to Syria, while 11 per cent of those detained were female, and 17 per cent were under 20 years old.

"The make-up of terrorism has changed," Mr Rowley said. "Those statistics really illustrate that - you would not have seen that five or 10 years ago."

"That mix of families, women, teenagers getting involved in terrorism is something that comes out.

It's not going to be a one-off to see people in their teenage years coming into this. It replicates a bit what we see in gang crime - people with troubled histories get drawn into serious crime and can get drawn into this."

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The frequency and seriousness of thwarted terrorist attacks in Britain have intensified as Islamic State has taken over swaths of Iraq and Syria and attracted thousands of foreign jihadis to its cause.

Earlier this year Andrew Parker, director-general of MI5, warned that the picture was more complex than ever, and that UK security services could not hope to prevent every operation that was being planned.

Mr Rowley said the key challenge for police was managing a wide range of different attacks, from the highly sophisticated to the amateur.

"At one end of the spectrum you've got well-organised plots, potentially choreographed and even directed from overseas," he said. "At the other end, you've got people who are inspired by some of the propaganda and messages and other communications coming out from Isis but largely acting of their own volition. Those will often be low-tech in methodology - very basic in terms of bomb-making, using knives or plans to use cars to run people over."

Britain is not the only country battling to tackle the threat from returning jihadis - Germany, France and the Netherlands face the same problem. In an effort to co-ordinate their responses, UK counter-terrorism officers are convening a conference of European police chiefs next month.

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