Russian threat to UK doesn’t end with Skripal poisoning, warns terror chief

The Russian threat to the UK is “much wider and more pervasive” than just the Skripal nerve-agent poisoning, an anti-terrorism chief has warned.

Russia is now targeting elements of British life that are “underpinning the economic stability of the nation”.

Assistant Chief Constable Tim Jacques said the attempted assassination of double-agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in March 2018, was just the “front end” of malign Russian plots in the UK.

Speaking at a security conference in London, the deputy senior national coordinator for counter-terrorism policing said 42 innocent people had been killed in terrorist attacks since 2017, including Dawn Sturgess, who died after being exposed to novichok nerve agent in the Salisbury incident.

British detectives last week named Denis Sergeev as the third member of the Russian military intelligence squad sent to kill Mr Skripal.

A Metropolitan Police handout of Russian spy Denis Sergeev, who faces a string of charges including trying to kill former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, his daughter Yulia and ex-police officer Nick Bailey

Credit: Metropolitan Police/PA Wire

Mr Jacques warned the threat extended beyond direct assassinations.

“In terms of the whole host of elements used to try to attack the UK and UK interests from those states seeking their own advantage”, the threat from Russia is “much wider, much deeper and much more concerning,” he said.

Targets include those parts of society “underpinning the economic stability of the nation [and] this is what we expect them to do”. 

Terror groups use internet as recruiting tool

Mr Jacques said as a result of the Covid-19 lockdowns, security officials were increasingly worried about “people losing themselves in the internet” and being “taken advantage [of] by terrorist groups who want to influence, promote their ideology and draw people in”.

“Nobody is born a terrorist,” he said.

“What is the thing that makes these people become terrorists? From where do they draw their influence, the radicalisation to get drawn down that dark line where they end up wanting to commit indiscriminate mass murder?

“We generally have concerns that lots of people spend lots of time researching and being drawn further down the dark hole of ideology.

“The threat that they pose, as a consequence, will endure for some time,” he said.

Timeline of events since the 2018 Salisbury Novichok poisonings

Arrests and disruption

In the year to June 2021, there have been 181 arrests for terrorism offences in the UK. Of these, 47 per cent were Islamist extremists, with 35 per cent attributed to extreme Right-wing terrorism. Of the total, 13 per cent were under 18 years of age, a figure Mr Jacques said was growing.

Since March 2017, security forces have disrupted 31 alleged terrorist plots.

Former Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, the police officer poisoned by novichok in the nerve agent attack on the Skripals, told the conference he knew he was seriously unwell when he saw “a tsunami of fire” and felt intense heat after two days in hospital.

He said he was “not surprised they’ve found somebody else” involved in the attack and praised the investigation team that was still examining the circumstances around the poisoning three years later.

The various conspiracy theories that had grown from the incident had hurt him, he said, as “people couldn’t accept I was just a copper, doing my job, and it just happened to me”.

“In the absence of facts they made up their own and I found that really difficult to deal with.

“People will accuse you of lying or cheating … so I kind of just stopped caring. I know what happened. I know how it affected me and my family.

“Anything else outside of that, I don’t worry about it anymore."

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