By Michael Holden
LONDON (Reuters) -Iran's intelligence services have made at least 10 attempts to kidnap or even kill British nationals or individuals based in the United Kingdom regarded by Tehran as a threat, the head of Britain's domestic spy agency said on Wednesday.
Ken McCallum, Director General of the Security Service known as MI5, said while Tehran was using violence to silence critics at home, its "aggressive intelligence services" were also projecting a threat to Britain directly.
"At its sharpest this includes ambitions to kidnap or even kill British or UK-based individuals perceived as enemies of the regime," McCallum said in a speech at MI5's headquarters.
"We have seen at least 10 such potential threats since January alone."
Iranian officials were not immediately available for comment.
Last week, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said he had summoned Tehran's most senior diplomat over alleged threats by Iranian security forces to journalists in Britain.
Cleverly said he had made clear to the diplomat that "we do not tolerate threats to life and intimidation of any kind towards journalists, or any individual, living in the UK".
McCallum said the Iranian intelligence services were "a sophisticated adversary" who sometimes operated using their own staff or courted others to work on their behalf, and sometimes they were prepared to take "reckless action".
"At times they will take that action in Western countries, at times they will seek to lure people to other parts of the world including Iran itself," he said.
On Monday, Britain said it had sanctioned two dozen Iranian officials including the government's communications minister and the chief of its cyber police over the "violent repression of protests" sparked by the death of a 22-year-old woman in the custody of the morality police.
For its part, Iran has accused Western foes of stoking the widespread protests ignited by the death of Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini on Sept. 16 which have marked one of the boldest challenges to the Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution.
The British spy chief's words also echo similar remarks earlier on Wednesday from French President Emmanuel Macron that Iran was being increasingly aggressive towards France by detaining its citizens.
Iran said on Wednesday several French intelligence agents had been arrested in connection with the protests.
"The current wave of protests in Iran is asking fundamental questions of the totalitarian regime," McCallum said. "This could signal profound change, but the trajectory is uncertain."
(Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Kate Holton, William Maclean)