UK counter-terrorism police shift focus to China, Russia and Iran as hostile state threats rise

Britain’s counter-terrorism police chief said the force was undergoing a “significant change” as part of its operations now focused on threats from hostile states such as China, Russia and Iran. .

Counter-terrorism police chief Matt Jukes said on Feb. 16 that the number of investigations into hostile state threats conducted by his officers had “quadrupled” in the past two years. rice field.

He described the workload as “unprecedented” and said the focus represented a “really significant shift” for teams working primarily on terrorism investigations.

Matt Jukes
Matt Jukes, Assistant Commissioner for Specialist Operations, updates media outside New Scotland Yard in south-west London on October 21, 2021. (Daniel Leal/AFP via Getty Images)

The senior officer said the fight against terrorism remains the focus of “the bulk” of the counter-terrorism police, which sabotaged several terrorist plots at the last minute last year.

However, he said that tackling hostile state activity has become a “growing part” of counterterrorism police work, and that “non-terrorism missions” such as tackling state threats, espionage and war crimes are becoming more common. It now accounts for about 20% of cases, he said. .

Jukes told reporters at Scotland Yard:

“For counter-terrorism police, this means that about 20% of our casework is now focused on non-terrorism missions. and working with MI5 and other partners to combat espionage.”

The number of state-threat-focused investigations “has quadrupled in the last few years,” he said, referring to “dozens,” not hundreds, of cases in the past two years. added.

However, he stressed that due to the “intensity” of the investigation, “dozens” of officers may be working on a hostile state threat, and the nature of the incident is not a terror investigation. “It’s definitely different,” he added.

‘Very real concerns’

Last November, Britain’s MI5 intelligence agency revealed a “very real threat” posed by hostile states such as China, Russia and Iran.

MI5 Director General Ken McCallum said these adversaries were “massive and not squeamish about the tactics they deploy” and that Iran’s intelligence agencies have accused British or “British-based” people It added that there were at least 10 plots to kidnap or kill “Enemies of the Government”

Jukes confirmed that number has now increased to 15.

Chinese police outpost

The senior officer also said officers were investigating reports of the alleged existence of “so-called Chinese overseas police stations.”

Last year, the human rights NGO Safeguard Defenders announced dozens of Chinese overseas police “service stations” around the world, including two in London and one in Glasgow.

Glasgow station’s phone number was tied to the address of a Chinese restaurant, while London station shared an address with a food delivery company in Croydon and a real estate agent in Hendon.

The unofficial “service station” claims to provide assistance to Chinese citizens who need to renew their driver’s license and report crimes such as fraud committed by Chinese nationals in China and abroad.

But Safeguard Defenders says the facility is being used by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime to carry out an illegal campaign of cross-border repression.

“I would like to make absolutely clear that any attempt to intimidate, harass or harm any person who is a British national or based in the United Kingdom will not be tolerated,” Jukes told reporters. rice field.

He said police had not yet identified evidence of a related crime in the UK, but added: we have the resources to do that. “

Russian war crimes

Meanwhile, the London Metropolitan Police’s war crimes team, part of the Counterterrorism Command, continues to collect evidence on alleged war crimes in Ukraine to support the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation.

As the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine approaches, the war crimes team has renewed its call for anyone in the UK with direct evidence of potential war crimes to come forward.

So far, 100 reports from people across the UK about the civil war in Ukraine have been reviewed by officers, Jukes said.

Britain has long faced a threat from Russian espionage.

On Friday, David Ballantine Smith, a security guard at the British Embassy in Berlin, was sentenced to 13 years and two months in prison for spying for Russia. The judge said his actions were “intended to harm Britain’s interests”.

In 2018, Britain accused Russian agents of conducting a nerve agent attack in Salisbury targeting former Russian double agent Sergey Skripal and his daughter Yulia. Moscow has denied the charges.

Lily Zhou, Chris Summers, and PA Media contributed to this report.