Accessibility links

British Home Secretary Warns Against 'Mass Murder on the Streets of London'

British Home Secretary, Theresa May, addresses guests during a speech at Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London, 3 November 2010

Britain's Home Secretary said Wednesday that people from Britain have traveled to Somalia to fight and that they may want to return to Britain to commit mass murder.

Last week, a package bomb was found at Britain's East Midlands airport aboard a plane from Yemen bound for the United States. A similar package was found in the United Arab Emirates, also en route to the United States.

British Home Secretary Theresa May said the incidents demonstrate the ongoing threat posed by terrorism.

"The events of last week again showed that we can never entirely eliminate the threat of terrorist attack, but we can reduce the risk," said May. "That is what all of our programs and our efforts are intended to do."

In her first speech on terrorism since becoming Home Secretary, May warned against overstating the threat posed by al-Qaida.

She said the group has not successfully carried out an attack in Britain since 2007 and that there have been no casualties since 2005.

But May said the network's North African affiliate, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, and al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, pose an increasing threat. She said AQAP is suspected of carrying out last week's airport bomb plots.

"AQAP now has a very substantial operational capability in Yemen, and this is increasing," she said. "But they've also shown the ability to project a threat far beyond the borders of Yemen. Our police and agencies have been working to disrupt AQAP operatives in this country. An AQAP associate was arrested here earlier this year. He is alleged to have been planning a terrorist attack in this country. Threats such as this are likely to continue."

May gave no details about the arrest.

She also spoke about the threat to Britain posed by terrorists trained in Somalia.

"We know that people from this country have already gone to Somalia to fight," she said. "It seems highly likely, given experience elsewhere that if left to their own devices, we would eventually see British extremists, trained and hardened on the streets of Mogadishu returning to the UK and seeking to commit mass murder on the streets of London."

Speaking about the bomb discovered in Britain on board a UPS cargo plane last week, May said it was hidden in the cartridge of a printer and connected to a hidden power source in sections of a mobile phone.