Afghan community's protest at 'harassment' by police force hailed as role model

by By Helen McArdle and Imran Azam, Sunday Herald

IT'S AN intensely embarrassing reversal of fortunes for Scotland's biggest police force. Strathclyde Police had no sooner been praised by Britain's leading counter-terrorism officer as a role model for building community relations, than Glasgow's Afghan community announced it was to march on the force's HQ protesting Special Branch "harassment".

The decision to protest against the force came just as Bob Quick, assistant commissioner for specialist operations at the Met, said he was extremely impressed at how Strathclyde Police managed to tackle the threat posed by Islamic extremism and maintain good relations with the Muslim community.

Quick said Glasgow's counter-terrorism intelligence unit is "an extremely impressive police operational unit that includes very professional and dedicated staff". He said he would be passing on some of the approaches and systems to colleagues across the UK.

Quick said Scotland "regularly featured" in the Met's anti-terror operations and community relations were "significantly better" north of the border and a major advantage in combating the terror threat.

"There are certainly lessons to be learnt in how the community has successfully integrated into mainstream Scottish society," Quick added. "The relationship with police is also different compared to other parts of the country. It's open, productive, and developing well. It strikes me that the level of trust is good and that's a great thing to build on."

However, Mohammad Asif, president of the Scottish Afghan Society, also spoke to the Sunday Herald and said that his organisation is to stage a demonstration outside Pitt Street headquarters in Glasgow sometime in the next week once Ramadan is over to highlight a growing sense of victimisation at the hands of Special Branch.

"I used to work very closely with the police but now I don't because they treat us like terrorists," said Asif. "Every single Afghani who travels through Glasgow airport is being questioned for two or three hours - I know people who are flying from Manchester now instead because they are so sick of the harassment. It's always a problem after you clear immigration control. The Special Branch stop and question us, asking do you pray?', what mosque do you go to?', are you a member of a terrorist group', what do you think of the Glasgow airport attacks'. It's so stupid and naive. And it's purely racism."

Asif said one young Afghan man living in Glasgow - who is a British citizen - came to him for help after being held for questioning for two-and-a-half hours by Special Branch at Glasgow airport. He was then asked to attend further questioning at the Pitt Street headquarters, before being questioned again for an hour at Govan police station.

"This young man, a taxi driver, was shivering when he approached me asking for help. And the thing is, we will be the first to report anything to the police because we are the victims of terrorism - we ran from terrorists in Afghanistan and came here.

"They bombed Afghanistan because terrorists were there, and we left because of those same terrorists. Now we are tortured here in the name of democracy. It's really quite sad. People get mad and it makes them resentful."

A spokesperson for Strathclyde Police Special Branch said: "We would welcome Mr Asif's contribution should he or the community he represents feel aggrieved ."

Concerns about questioning protocols were raised at a summit with Scotland's head of counter-terrorism, Allan Burnett, last month. This prompted him to announce a review into the use of the prevention of terrorism legislation at ports in Scotland.

Osama Saeed, chief executive of the Scottish-Islamic Foundation, which held meeting with Burnett, says the study is a step in the right direction.

"Overall, his stance is welcome, but our view is that even if questions were more relevant, people are still going to be offended if you stop them in the airport, take them for an interview and ask them if they know where Osama bin Laden is.

"The point is, why are you stopping us for no good reason? All questioning has to be intelligence-led, which I don't think the police seem willing to concede."