British Prime Minister David Cameron raised Friday the nation's terrorism threat level to "severe," saying bluntly that "poisonous" Islamic extremism is causing widespread problems that are spreading from the Middle East to other parts of the world.
"We have to confront it from home and abroad," he said Friday during a press conference, calling for more intelligence, smart military airstrikes and a slew of other "building blocks" that will require "perseverance" to succeed.
"I believe we will be fighting for years, and perhaps decades," Mr. Cameron said, adding that the U.K. has already taken many actions, such as "legislating so that we can prosecute people on all aspects of terrorism."
Mr. Cameron estimated about 500 people have traveled to the Middle East for terrorism training and to join the Islamic State.
He dismissed the theory that poverty fosters terrorism.
"The [current] terrorist threat was not created by the Iraq War … it existed even before the horrific attacks on 9/11," he said. "It cannot be solved by addressing poverty, or dictatorships or instability in the region. The root cause is quite clear: a poisonous ideology of Islamic extremism that is condemned by all … [and that will] force people to live in a Medieval state" that includes beheadings, the enslavement of people, the rape of women.
Mr. Cameron distinguished between the religion of Islam and its radicalized political ideology.
"There is Islam on the one hand and extremists who want to abuse Islam on the other," he said.
Britain's move means the nation's terror threat now stands at its second-highest level, at which the government considers an attack "highly likely," Business Insider reported.
Home Secretary Theresa May said Friday that the threat level was raised because of the escalating violence in Iraq from the Islamic State, and because of any specific threat that Britain's received.
"The increase in the threat level is related to developments in Syria and Iraq where terrorist groups are planning attacks against the West," she said, Business Insider reported. "Some of these plots are likely to involve foreign fighters who have traveled there from the UK and Europe to take part in those conflicts."
This is the first time that Britain's terror threat level has been raised since January 2010, and even then, it only went from "substantial" to "severe," Business Insider reported. The threat level was then lowered in July 2011.
"The first and most important duty of government is the protection of the British people," Miss May said, Business Insider reported. "We have already taken steps to amend our powers and increase our capabilities for dealing with the developing terrorist threats we face. That process will continue and the British public should be in no doubt that we will take the strongest possible action to protect our national security."
Mr. Cameron's actions come as the U.S. response to the Islamic State remains in limbo. President Obama said Thursday the White House currently has no policy for dealing with the terrorist group.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Friday that U.S. officials are working with their British counterparts, but the administration has no plans right now to raise the U.S. threat level.
"I don't anticipate at this point that there's a plan to change that level," Mr. Earnest said.
Mr. Obama changed his travel plans Friday, deciding to fly back to Washington Friday night after a series of Democratic fundraisers in New York and Rhode Island. The president originally planned to stay overnight in Westchester, New York, for the wedding on Saturday of White House chef Sam Kass. But he will now travel back to New York on Saturday for the wedding.
Mr. Earnest said the president's change of plans was "not specifically related to" the raised terrorism threat level in Great Britain.
"He decided he'd rather just make the late evening flight back" to Washington, Mr. Earnest said.
A State Department official said the agency is currently deferring comment on Friday's developments to the British government and Department of Homeland Security.
• Dave Boyer and Phillip Swarts contributed to this article.
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