al-Qaeda maniacs in the Middle East and Africa are waging holy war alongside around 200 radicalised Britons, it has been revealed.
The renegades from across the UK have joined forces with the heavily armed Islamist terror groups in Yemen, Somalia, Libya and Syria – and have even fought British troops in Afghanistan.
Since the 9/11 atrocities in 2001, more than 1,000 Brits have travelled abroad to join al-Qaeda before they returned to plot attacks or died in combat overseas.
The shock figures were revealed by sources as MI5 chief Jonathan Evans warned last night that the Arab Spring has opened up new safe havens for al-Qaeda terrorists.
In his first speech since 2010, the security service’s director general said: “Parts of the Arab world have once more become a permissive environment for al-Qaeda.”
He added: “A small number of British would-be jihadists are also making their way to Arab countries to seek training and opportunities for militant activity, as they do in Somalia and Yemen.
“Some will return to the UK and pose a threat here. This is a worrying development and could get worse as events unfold.”
Mr Evans also confirmed there have been 43 “potential plots” or “serious incidents” against the UK since 9/11.
He warned that while the al-Qaeda threat has reduced in heartlands such as Pakistan, it has spread as the war in neighbouring Afghanistan has forced jihadists to look elsewhere for a safe haven.
Mr Evans also revealed that cyber warfare is raging in Britain as firms attempt to fend off foreign countries that are trying to steal technology.
He said one big British firm, which he did not name, estimates it suffered revenue losses of £800million as a result of a cyber attack.
Mr Evans explained that foreign spies had pinched the firm’s research and compromised negotiations with other companies.
Speaking in London at the Lord Mayor’s Defence and Security Lecture, the head of MI5 also made a chilling warning about the possibility of his spooks failing to spot a potential attack.
He said: “I admit that describing the threats from the perspective of a security service can appear to be crying wolf or revealing our blind spots.
“At least some of the areas of concern I have highlighted tonight might turn out to be dogs that don’t bark. I hope that is the case. On the other hand, the dog you haven’t seen may turn out to be the one that bites you.”
He also confirmed that the Olympics “dominates much of our thinking in the security world... but the work of MI5 will continue once the sport has finished”.