LONDON — Prime Minister David Cameron pledged Friday to plug gaps in Britain’s armory to combat terror, describing the extremist threat posed by the Islamic State as being more dangerous than even that of al-Qaeda.
Cameron’s remarks came just moments after authorities raised Britain’s terror threat to severe, the second-highest level. The decision was related to developments in Iraq and Syria, but there was no information to suggest an attack was imminent.
“What we are facing in Iraq now with ISIL is a greater threat to our security than we have seen before,” Cameron said, using an abbreviation for a name the Islamic State previously used: the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant.
He told reporters that while the Taliban facilitated al-Qaeda terrorism, the Islamic State is “effectively a state run by terrorists.” He said the ambition to create an Islamist caliphate cannot be ignored.
“We could be facing a terrorist state on the shores of the Mediterranean and bordering a NATO member,” he said, referring to Turkey.
Intelligence and security services now think that about 500 Britons have gone to fight in Syria and potentially Iraq. Some of the plots are likely to involve people who have traveled from Britain and Europe to battle in the Middle East.
British police have appealed to the public to help identify aspiring terrorists after the killing of an American journalist focused attention on extremism in the U.K. The involvement of someone of British nationality in James Foley’s beheading underscored the need to identify those who might travel abroad to fight or are at risk of being radicalized.
British authorities say about 70 arrests were made in the first half of the year for a variety of offenses, including fundraising, preparing for terrorism acts and traveling abroad for terrorist training. The police say such arrests are being made at a rate five times greater than last year.
One action Cameron outlined was the possibility that passports could be taken away. He said further measures would be described in the House of Commons on Monday.
Britain also wants to revive a directive to enable police and security services to share passenger records in the European Union. Concerns about civil liberties have stalled the measure in the European Parliament.
Britain raised the country’s terror threat level from substantial to severe just before Cameron held his news conference. The threat level means a terrorist attack is considered highly likely.