U.K. Spy Warns Against Triumphalism Over Islamic State Collapse

(Bloomberg) -- As U.S. forces prepare to oust Islamic State militants from their last foothold in Syria, the head of the U.K.’s foreign intelligence agency warned of the lasting threat from the group’s ideology.

“We are not triumphant because I think from triumphant you get to hubris,” MI6 Chief Alex Younger told reporters in Munich on Friday. “This is a societal, generational problem that we face in the West and it can only be addressed at that level,” he said. “You can’t use military force to kill an idea.”

Younger said Islamic States’s so-called caliphate was now in its “end game,” with the extremist militants clinging to the last square mile of land they hold in the village of Baghuz in eastern Syria. The few hundred remaining IS fighters are being targeted by bombing raids in a U.S.-backed operation.

Meanwhile the U.K. is debating the case of Shamima Begum, a 19-year-old from east London who wants to come home despite expressing no regrets over becoming a so-called jihadi bride with Islamic State in Syria at the age of 15. Begum made the remarks in an interview with The Times newspaper at a refugee camp in northern Syria, where she is pregnant with her third child. Both of her other children died of malnutrition and disease.

As a British citizen, Begum is entitled to return to the U.K. but faces potential prosecution if she does so. Younger warned of the risk posed by Britons returning from Syria given their “skills and connections that make them potentially very dangerous.” Islamic State is adept at inspiring terrorist attacks even when it’s not orchestrating them directly, he said.

“Their use of new technologies and their capacity to radicalize at a distance is still really significant,” he added. “The military defeat of the ‘caliphate’ does not represent the end of the terrorist threat.”

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