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'Highly organised' IS plotting terror attacks on UK from Syria, warns MI6 chief

Britain can never be safe from Syrian terror threats until the brutal civil war is brought to an end, spy chief Alex Younger has said.

The "murderously efficient" Islamic State (IS) is currently plotting violent attacks against the UK from Syria despite being under military pressure, the head of MI6 warned.

In his first public speech since taking up the post of "C", Mr Younger said the scale of the terror threat is "unprecedented" as he highlighted how intelligence and security services have disrupted 12 terrorist plots in the country over the last three years.

Speaking to journalists at MI6 headquarters in London's Vauxhall, he attacked Russia for backing Bashar Assad's "discredited" Syrian regime, warning that defining opponents as terrorists alienated people who must be brought onside if extremists are to be defeated.

"The plight of the Syrians continues to worsen. I cannot say with any certainty what the next year will bring," he said.

"But what I do know is this - we cannot be safe from the threats that emanate from that land unless the civil war is brought to an end."

Mr Younger warned that "hybrid warfare", which includes cyber attacks and subverting democracy as well as more traditional methods of attack, was becoming an "increasingly dangerous phenomenon".

"The risks at stake are profound and represent a fundamental threat to our sovereignty. They should be a concern to all those who share democratic values."

IS, also known as Daesh, exploited Syria's civil war to bolster its stronghold in the region and wage a war on the West.

Mr Younger said the service must "take the fight to the enemy" by penetrating terror organisations.

"The scale of the threat is unprecedented. The UK intelligence and security services have disrupted 12 terrorist plots in the UK since June 2013. And MI5 and the police continue to run hundreds of investigations into those intent on carrying out or supporting terrorist atrocities against our citizens.

"As I speak, the highly organised external attack planning structure within Daesh, even as they face military threat, are plotting ways to project violence against the UK and our allies without ever having to leave Syria.

"We face a threat that exploits failed states within a connected world. So, we cannot pull up the drawbridge. Instead, we need to take the fight to the enemy, penetrating terrorist organisations upstream. By that I mean as close to the source as possible.

"In footballing terms, it's about always ensuring you are playing in the opponent's half."

Mr Younger said the internet and data had turned the business of spying "on its head".

"They represent an existential threat combined with a golden opportunity," he added.

The spy chief also touched on the political upsets that had sent shockwaves through the West in 2016.

In the run-up to the referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union, some experts, including former MI6 ''C'' Sir John Sawers, spoke out to highlight the security benefits of the information-sharing that goes on across the bloc. Then-prime minister David Cameron claimed that IS would welcome Brexit.

Donald Trump's election as the next president of the United States has also prompted speculation about how future relations with the UK will play out.

But M r Younger said he expected "continuity" in Britain's security dealings with both the EU and US.

"I'm often asked what effect the big political changes of 2016, Brexit and the US election result, will have on these relationships," he said.

"My answer is that I will aim for, and expect, continuity. These relationships are long- lasting and the personal bonds between us are strong."

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