Islamic State 'is plotting Christmas terror attacks in UK and Europe' for publication of Prophet Mohammed cartoons in France, ex-MI6 spy warns as Macron announces plans to close 80 'extremist' mosques
The so-called Islamic State is plotting Christmas terror attacks in Britain and European countries in revenge for the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in France, a former MI6 spy has warned.
Aimen Dean, who spent eight years spying on al-Qaeda before his cover was blown by a US intelligence leak, claimed plots were being hatched in jihadi-held areas of northern Syria and Libya to terrorise Europeans this winter.
He told a security conference in London that Abu Omar al-Shishani, an Isis commander who is thought to have survived a US strike in 2016, is planning to send extremists to the West via Turkey and across the Mediterranean from North Africa.
They will then carry out a series of terror atrocities in Britain, France and Germany as their governments lift coronavirus restrictions ahead of Christmas, Dean said.
Home Secretary Priti Patel moved Britain to its second-highest terror threat level of 'severe' after a series of horrifying attacks in France and Austria, where an Isis sympathiser killed four people during a gun rampage in Vienna.
In France, schoolteacher Samuel Paty was beheaded in October for showing a classroom Mohammed cartoons in a lesson on free speech. Three Christians were killed in a mass stabbing by a Tunisian migrant in Nice just two weeks later.
The French government vowed to clamp down on religious extremism by closing nearly 80 mosques accused of 'separatism' and expelling 66 undocumented migrants suspected of radicalisation from the country.
Dean told the International Security Week conference: 'The worry is that, according to people who know him, [Shishani] is planning to avenge the Prophet Mohammed cartoons in places like Germany, UK, France and all around Christmas time.
'I'm afraid I'm not bearing good news but we need to be worried about the wave of terror that is coming from northern Syria and Libya for Christmas this year.'
He added: 'This promise of no lockdown at Christmas has made it a more attractive timeframe for targeting. Already they have been thinking about it, already they have been looking at it and I feel this will be the next target.'
The former al-Qaeda bombmaker claimed that Shishani is planning to infiltrate attacks from the remaining outposts of Isis activity following the republication of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed by the French satirical Charlie Hebdo.
Most Isis-inspired attacks in Western Europe have been carried out by 'lone wolves' since the collapse of the organisation's caliphate in Syria.
But what remains of the so-called Islamic State have squirrelled away more than £330million in criminal funds secured after their rise to global prominence in 2014 which can be used to launch attacks, according to Dean.
The French government has hit back at religious extremism by closing mosques and dissolving groups including the Collective Against Islamophobia in France, which it claims have links to 'radical' networks – an allegation the group denies.
Emmanuel Macron has warned against 'Islamist separatism' in France and promised to place mosques under greater state control as he called Islam a religion in crisis.
After the New York Times accused Mr Macron of racism and Islamophobia, the French President criticised the paper's English-language coverage of France's stance on Islamic extremism in the wake of recent attacks in the country and suggesting that the Anglo-US press was legitimising terrorism in France.
France's fiercely secular state was founded on the concept of laicite, which separates state institutions – including schools – from the influence of religion.
However, this policy chafes with France's multicultural population, particularly Muslims, some of whom feel they have been unfairly targeted by secular policies including a ban on the wearing of some forms of Islamic dress in public spaces.