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By Christine Mai-Duc, Los Angeles Times

Responding to recent events in Syria and Iraq, Britain has upgraded its security threat level to “severe,” the government announced Friday, meaning a terrorist attack there is “highly likely.”

The nation’s Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, an independent body, made the determination based on its latest intelligence, officials said.

This is the first time in three years that the U.K. has been at such a heightened security threat level.

The announcement of the increased threat level cited terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq that are “planning attacks against the West,” saying some plots are likely to involve Europeans that have traveled to the region to take part in the fighting.

In a news conference, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said citizens were “shocked and sickened” by the murder of American journalist James Foley, and by revelations that the terrorist who killed him was likely British.

“It was clear evidence… that this is not some foreign conflict thousands of miles from home that we can hope to ignore,” Cameron told reporters. “The ambition to create an extremist caliphate in the heart of Iraq and Syria is a threat our own security here in the U.K.”

Cameron said the British government thinks that at least 500 people have traveled from Britain to fight in Syria in Iraq, blaming the violence of the Islamic State on “poisonous ideology of Islamist extremism.”

“We cannot appease this ideology, we have to confront it at home and abroad,” Cameron said.

In a statement, Home Secretary Theresa May said there was no specific intelligence to suggest that an attack is imminent.

Mark Rowley, the U.K.’s head of counterterrorism, urged people to report any suspicious activity to the police, and said police would be increasing patrol levels and implementing other security measures by Friday afternoon.

AFP Photo

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