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Iranian terror cells 'ready to strike' UK as May's government accused of dropping the ball on Gulf tanker crisis

Thomas Colson , Business Insider US
 Jul 22, 2019, 12:00 PM
  • Iranian terror cells are reportedly "ready to strike" the UK, as tensions in the Gulf rise.
  • The cells are operated by individuals with links to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, the Telegraph reported.
  • The UK government is accused of having "dropped the ball" by failing to protect UK ships.
  • Prime Minister Theresa May will chair an emergency meeting on Monday morning to deal with the crisis.
  • For more stories, go to Business Insider SA.

Iranian terror cells are reportedly "ready to strike" the UK if the crisis between London and Tehran escalates further, amid mounting criticism of Theresa May's government over Iran's seizure of a British-flagged tanker in the Gulf.

UK intelligence agencies believe that Iran has organised and funded terrorist sleeper cells across Europe and could greenlight attacks in response to the crisis in the Gulf should it escalate further, the Telegraph reported.

The cells are operated by radicals with links to Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group. Counter-terror police identified a cell in 2015 which was stockpiling large amounts of explosives just outside London.

Theresa May is due to chair a meeting of the British government's emergency Cobra committee on Monday in her last week as prime minister, while Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt will make a statement in the Commons this afternoon.

The meeting comes after members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard boarded the Stena Impero on Friday as it passed through international waters, claiming it was a "reciprocal action" after British forces intercepted an Iranian tanker near Gibraltar earlier this month which was allegedly heading for Syria.

The UK government on Sunday faced allegations of failing to act sufficiently to guard its shipping in the Gulf, with the seizure of the Stena Impero widely seen as an avoidable incident for which ministers had plenty of warning.

Conservative MP Huw Merriman, a parliamentary aide to Chancellor Philip Hammond, said on Sunday: "I take the view that we have dropped the ball here. We knew from 4 July, having seized an Iranian tanker that we suspected was breaching EU sanctions and heading for oil to Syria, that there would be some form of reprisal and that's exactly what we've got.

"It was hardly a surprise when one of ours got taken," he told BBC's Westminster Hour on Sunday.

Adding to the criticism, junior defence minister Tobias Ellwood said government cuts to defence funding had left the Royal Navy to small to manage Britain's interests across the world.

Criticism mounted further on the weekend when it was reported that the government rejected the offer of US naval protection for British tankers passing through the Strait of Hormuz, which is near Iranian waters.

A boat of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard sails next to Stena Impero, a British-flagged vessel owned by Stena Bulk, at Bandar Abbas port, July 21, 2019.

Jeremy Hunt, who is likely to be beaten by Boris Johnson in the leadership race to replace Theresa May this week, is under intense pressure to join US-led plans for an international maritime protection force in the Gulf.

Allies of Johnson - who is reportedly ready to sack Hunt as Foreign Secretary if he wins the leadership race by a landslide - said the government urgently needed to address the charge that it had made errors in not doing so.

Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith, who is chairing Johnson's campaign, said questions needed to be answered about the UK's planning after it seized an Iranian tanker on July 4.

"If something didn't send an alarm signal that we needed to have serious assets or protection and convoying of our vessels in that area then I want to know why not," he said.

He added that he had been informed by sources in Washington that the UK had been invited "to use US assets to support British shipping and they were not taken up at that point."

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