President Obama has sent a special unit of CIA officers to the UK to investigate British Muslim extremists amid growing fears in Washington that we are becoming a ‘breeding ground’ for terrorism.
In a pointed snub to MI5, the agents arrived on a ‘lone wolf’ mission to interrogate senior security experts about the radicalisation of UK Muslims.
The mission has been revealed as UK security services have been forced to admit they are struggling to keep track of the estimated 500 Britons who have travelled to the Middle East to fight alongside the Islamic Isis forces in Syria and Iraq.
It is unusual for the CIA to send a team to the UK: the agency usually relies on information passed to it by MI5 or MI6 or by its agents stationed at the American Embassy in London.
Sources have told The Mail on Sunday that the agents were keen to establish the ‘stability’ of the relationship between the Sunni and Shia branches of Muslims in the UK. The fighters going out to join Isis have been British-based Sunnis, causing deepening tensions within the community.
Professor Anthony Glees, of the Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies at Buckingham University, said the mission, which took place earlier this year, showed the level of concern in Washington over the issue, which he claimed was rooted in the UK’s ‘lax’ immigration policies.
‘The US is worried about the British situation. They fear there might be a knock-on effect for them,’ Prof Glees said.
‘The throat-cutting between Sunnis and Shias in Iraq and Syria has not yet spread to the UK, but it is a real threat. It is conceivable you could see Shia “hit squads” in Britain targeting Sunnis preparing to go out to the conflict zones to fight.’
He said: ‘The Americans regard the UK as a disaster because of our lax stance on immigration which has allowed this militancy to take hold.
‘Frankly, they would not be doing their jobs properly if it did not do this – forming an objective view of the situation outside of the reports they get from MI5 and their officers at the US Embassy in London.’
Last night a source at the CIA insisted British intelligence had been informed of ‘all outside contacts’ the agents made in the UK.
However, the sources also admitted that the move revealed a growing lack of trust in Washington over MI5 and MI6’s ability to provide a reliable assessment of the security threat presented by young Muslims under the sway of imams who are radicalised and then recruited to fight in religious wars around the globe.
The Obama administration has become increasingly anxious that young American Muslims could follow the same pattern. There are strong links between British and American radicals and the sources say the CIA feels British efforts to identify and unmask them have been inadequate.
A CIA and a Home Office spokesman declined to comment.