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Attacks on soldiers 'incredibly hard' to prevent ex-MI6 chief warns as ministers say controls are difficult in a free society
- Richard Barrett, ex-head of counter-terrorism at MI6, highlights difficulties in spotting 'red flags'
- Communities Secretary Eric Pickles says there are limits to controls in a free society
- Killers of Lee Rigby, 25, were known to security services up to 8 years ago
PUBLISHED:03:53 EST, 24 May 2013| UPDATED:03:57 EST, 24 May 2013
Preventing the brutal killing of soldier would have been ‘incredibly hard’, a former MI6 chief warned as the security services face questions about its failure to intercept the terrorists.
Richard Barrett, ex-head of counter-terrorism at the spy agency, said security services may have had little chance to intervene before two men slaughtered the 25-year-old on the streets of London.
And Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said the public must be realistic about what controls are possible in a 'free society'.
Questions: Police and security services have faced criticism over what they knew about the suspected killers of Drummer Lee Rigby
Balance: Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said there were limits to intelligence controls in a free society while Richard Barrett, ex-head of counter-terrorism at MI6, said preventing attacks was incredibly hard
The Security Service is facing an inquiry by MPs amid a raft of revelations about the killers’ known links to Islamist extremism.
One of the pair – Michael Adebolajo, who was filmed with blood on his hands ranting at passers-by – was photographed outside Paddington Green police station six years ago behind notorious hate preacher Anjem Choudary.
He was even intercepted by officials as he attempted to travel to Somalia to fight alongside Islamist terrorists last year and was said to have been preaching jihad on the streets of Woolwich earlier this week.
Government sources said both suspects - Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale – appeared on lists of interest to the security services.
Terror suspect: Michael Adebolajo, who was filmed after Lee Rigby's killing with blood on his hands, was pictured (circled) at an Islamist demonstration in 2007 according to notorious hate preacher Anjem Choudary (right)
Victim: Lee Rigby, 25, was yesterday named as the victim of the Woolwich knife attack
Prime Minister David Cameron said yesterday: ‘As is the normal practice in these sorts of cases, the Independent Police Complaints Commission will be able to review the actions of the police, and the Intelligence and Security Committee will be able to do the same for the wider agencies.’
But Mr Barrett warned there have may been little that MI5 could have done to prevent an attack which required little planning or preparation.
'To find the signals, the red flags as it were, I think is enormously hard'
Richard Barrett, ex-MI6
He said: ‘I think it is incredibly hard to stop. I assume that these people are probably coming out of a small group without necessarily any overseas connections or any other broader connections in the United Kingdom which could come to the attention of the security services more than they did.
‘When does a person who expresses radical views, who joins a radical group, flip over to over to be a violent extremist? To find the signals, the red flags as it were, I think is enormously hard,’ he told BBC2's Newsnight.
‘I should imagine that these two people themselves probably didn't have any intention to commit a crime like this until relatively recently before they did.’
He insisted that the inclusion of the killers’ names on security service lists did not mean they should have been under intense surveillance.
‘They must have had some indication that these guys were a problem in order to note their names. But it is one thing to note their names, it is quite another thing to take invasive action to track their movements and so on.’
Flowers: Scores of tributes have been laid at Woolwich Barracks near where Drummer Rigby was killed
The government moved quickly to establish investigations into what the police and security agencies knew about the killers.
But it stressed that there was a limit to what they could do.
Mr Pickles, the Communities Secretary, said it was especially difficult to monitor individuals acting alone from suddenly launching devastating attacks like Drummer Rigby’s death or Anders Breivik’s bombing and shooting in Norway which killed 77 people in 2011.
Mr Pickles said: ‘The very highly organised attacks, which no one can ever rule out, we’ve had a number of successes from the security forces and the police in intercepting these.
‘Whether we’re likely to see a copy-cat of this – I sincerely hope we don’t.
Former Met Commissioner Lord Blair said the public needed to have confidence in the security agencies
‘But there remains always a risk that extremists will do stupid and unpleasant things, whether it comes from a particular organisation or whether it’s like the people of Norway faced a couple of years ago from a lone gunmen,’ he told BBC Radio 4.
Sources said both of Drummer Rigby’s suspected killers featured in ‘a number’ of counter-terrorism investigations in recent years but were not seen as a ‘threat to life’.
Former Met Commissioner Lord Blair called for a swift investigation because ‘it’s important for the public to know that the security services and the police are operating properly’.
He added: ‘Obviously the security services have limited resources – they must prioritise to the people who are most likely to move from being interested in violent extremism to carrying out.
‘Then, even if you’ve got the resources to do it, you have to have very high levels of suspicion before you can put surveillance on.
‘And, thirdly... what are we monitoring? Because lots of people have very odd views.’
Asked if the level of armed police units in London needed to be stepped up, he added: ‘After an incident like this, you can always argue there ought to be more.
‘So far across the capital, the balance has broadly been right. It’s something I am sure that every commissioner keeps absolutely under review.'
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2330198/Attacks-soldiers-incredibly-hard-prevent-ex-MI6-chief-warns-ministers-say-controls-difficult-free-society.html#ixzz2UEA4B62b
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