ISIS is planning terror attacks in Britain and Europe over Christmas to exploit the end of coronavirus lockdowns, an MI6 spy has said.
The warning follows a series of attacks in recent months carried out in retaliation for the French government's defence of the right to publish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.
It came from Aimen Dean, a former al-Qaeda chemical weapons operative who defected and became a spy for MI6.
Dean spent eight years spying on al-Qaeda before he was compromised by a US intelligence leak.
Speaking at a security conference in London, Dean warned that attacks were being planned by IS commander Abu Omar al-Shishani, who reports have previously suggested was killed by a US airstrike in 2016.
"The worry is that, according to people who know him, [Shishani] is planning to avenge the Prophet Mohammed cartoons in places like Germany, UK, France and all around Christmas time," he said.
The debate over the use of the cartoons of Mohammed received renewed international attention following the beheading of history teacher Samuel Paty near a school in a Paris suburb on October 16.
Paty had showed some of his students cartoons of the prophet from satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo to teach them about the importance of free speech.
Depictions of Mohammed are forbidden in some sects of Islam.
Dean continued: "I'm afraid I'm not bearing good news but we need to be worried about the wave of terror that is coming from northern Syria and Libya for Christmas this year.
"This promise of no lockdown at Christmas has made it a more attractive timeframe for targeting.
"Already they have been thinking about it, already they have been looking at it and I feel this will be the next target."
The British government has said coronavirus restrictions will be eased for a five-day period over Christmas.
Other European countries also plan to ease their lockdowns.
WEST 'WEAKENED AND DISTRACTED' BY PANDEMIC
A report submitted to the UN Security Council in July similarly warned Islamic State could use the pandemic to regroup and attack countries that have been “weakened and distracted” by the virus.
"[ISIS] has had a captive audience during the lockdown,” the report read.
"If it has successfully used this for planning and recruitment purposes, it is possible that the easing of restrictions in non-conflict zones will see a spike in attacks once targets become available again."
The killing of Paty was the first of a number of attacks targeting France and its embassies around the world.
On October 29, three people were killed in a knife attack at the Basilica of Notre Dame in the French city of Nice.
On the same day, a Saudi man working as a security guard at the French consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, received non-life-threatening wounds in a knife attack.
On November 12, a grenade was thrown into a Remembrance Day ceremony organised in Jeddah by France's embassy in Saudi Arabia.
Since the killing of Paty, French president Emmanuel Macron has vehemently defended the right to free speech and vowed "we will not give up cartoons".
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