Britain faces a serious threat of terrorist attacks on the scale of the Madrid bombing this year which killed more than 190 people, the head of MI5 warned on Monday.
"The terrorists are inventive, adaptable and patient; their planning includes a wide range of methods to attack us," Eliza Manningham-Buller told the annual conference of the British business leaders in Birmingham.
In a rare public speech she told business leaders: "There is a serious and sustained threat of terrorist attacks against UK interests at home and abroad, including against the business community." She added: "They might be major attacks like Madrid earlier this year. They might be on a smaller scale."
Manningham-Buller said that though the death or arrest of senior al-Qaeda figures had damaged the organization, it retained the capacity to mount terrorist attacks. She also recognized that the term "al-Qaeda" can be used loosely.
"`Al-Qaeda' has become shorthand for other terrorist groups or networks that, inspired by al-Qaeda's successes, and in imitation of it, are now planning attacks against Western interests."
There had not been a successful terrorist assault in Britain since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the US because of increased international cooperation between intelligence agencies and the disruption of plots by security services here, she said.
She was addressing the CBI to alert companies to the need to protect themselves from potential terrorist attacks.
"A narrow definition of corporate security including the threats of crime and fraud should be widened to include terrorism and the threat of electronic attack," said MI5's director-general. "In the same way that health and safety and compliance have become part of the business agenda so should a broad understanding of security."
The issue should not be left to specialists within companies, she said. It should be treated seriously at board level.
MI5 is concerned that business gets the message initially directed at what Whitehall calls the "critical national infrastructure" such as the telecommunications, energy, transport, and water industries.
In May MI5 relaunched its Web site giving detailed advice about how businesses could protect themselves from attack. The agency listed its top 10 guidelines for "good security practice," which ranged from appointing board members with responsibility for security to "good basic housekeeping" such as keeping public areas tidy and well-lit.