London, Oct.3 : British security officials have warned that the terrorist threat in Britain is approaching critical status.
The threat level is at the "severe end of severe" according to sources, who say the level of "chatter" among terrorist cells has increased in recent months, prompting the police and MI5 to boost their presence and operate at full stretch to counter the elevated threat, reports The Telegraph. Earlier, security officials had considered downgrading the official threat level from "severe" but that plan has now been abandoned as a result of the increase in terrorist activity.
A senior counter terrorism source said: "We were looking at the threat level six months ago and asking how severe is severe? But it is October now and we are at the severe end of severe."
"We are not chasing shadows. These are potential threats to security and life. Police and the security network are operating at full capacity," he added. The assessment, which has five levels, has been considered severe since the arrest of the men allegedly plotting to attack transatlantic airliners in 2006 but moved up to "critical," meaning an attack is imminent, during last year's car bomb alert which led to the attack on Glasgow airport. t is now only just below that level.
MI5 is watching around 200 networks across Britain and MI6 and GCHQ are constantly monitoring communications on the crucial Afghan-Pakistan border area.
Although key commanders have been killed in air strikes, one of the particular concerns is the disappearance of Rashid Rauf from Birmingham, an alleged al-Qaeda mastermind who escaped from Pakistani custody last December.
Security officials are also worried about threats which may come from off the radar.
They are particularly worried by lone operators who "self-radicalise" over the internet and stock-pile chemicals from domestic sources.
There is also a fear that some in the Somali community in Britain could have "potential connections" with al-Qaeda terrorists.
Last week's attack on the US embassy in the Yemen means security officials now consider the Arabian peninsular "particularly combustible."
"We are doing a lot of research work into the detection of explosives at train stations and so on but this really demonstrates the importance of preventing radicalisation," the source said.
Part of the strategy has involved tackling al-Qaeda propaganda over the Internet. The Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism, a part of the Home Office which co-ordinates Britain's count-terrorism strategy, is working on a number of strategies for diverting vulnerable young men and de-radicalising those who have become involved with extremist organisations.
"We have limited evidence about what works but we want to get moving forward," the source said. "We need some quick wins."