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Terror chiefs recruit more Scots spies

by Richard Elias
Scotland on Sunday
13 April 2008

MI5 IS to create a team of "Scottish spooks" in a bid to prevent outrages like the Glasgow Airport attack and reduce the radicalisation of young Muslims north of the border.

The existing Scottish office of MI5 is to be increased from a handful of officers to as many as a dozen, all of them recruited in Scotland, in the hope they can blend in to communities and spot potential terrorists at an earlier stage.

Both the Glasgow Airport attack and the conviction of a 21-year-old Scottish Muslim on terror charges in Alva, Clackmannanshire, demonstrated how potential killers can live and work in communities without raising suspicions.

Last week, Sabeel Ahmed was jailed for 18 months for withholding information about the Glasgow attack. It emerged his brother, Kafeel, who died in the attack, had sent Sabeel an e-mail informing him of the plot. Kafeel had been working as a doctor in Paisley for about a year before the attack, but no one suspected he was a terrorist.

A security source told Scotland on Sunday: "The idea is to increase and improve local knowledge in the areas which matter. This idea of 'sleepers' is the new mainstay of the UK fight against homegrown terror. The idea is, if you do not know who or what is on your own doorstep, you will never be able to defeat the problem."

He continued: "For decades, the service has been based in London and has only moved out of the capital if and when it is needed elsewhere. But now the bosses have realised that they need to have a much better idea of what is happening out in the regions."

The precise number of new agents being recruited in Scotland has not been revealed.

The source added: "They are looking for people from Scotland, people who already know the region, know the people and who talk the talk.

"There is no time for these people to be bedded in. Once they are trained they will need to get out in the field as soon as possible and start finding potential informants who can give as clear a picture as possible about what is happening within potential flashpoints."

John Scott, one of Scotland's leading human rights lawyers, said: "I am not surprised at this move. It is something which other security services have, over the years, adopted around the world. It makes sense for MI5 to have people from different communities on board. Another reason for it is the fact that agencies like MI5 need people with specialist skills, such as experts in languages, because at present they must be getting access to so much potential information in all sorts of languages that they are not able to cope."

The airport attack happened just months before Mohammed Atif Siddique – dubbed Scotland's first al-Qaeda member – was jailed at the High Court in Edinburgh for eight years for terror-related offences. He was born and bred in Alva, Clackmannanshire, but was completely unknown to the authorities in Scotland, who were only tipped off to his activities following an unrelated inquiry by the Canadian police.

The security insider added: "No one knew anything of either Kafeel Ahmed or Mohammed Atif Siddique beforehand and it meant they were free to act with impunity and, in the case of Ahmed, very nearly succeeded in causing mayhem and carnage."

But Ghulam Mohammed, chairman of the Khazra Central Mosque and World Islamic Mission in Glasgow, raised concerns. "I don't think that this plan is beneficial to the Muslim community. Some people will be annoyed and I don't think that it is a positive way of solving the problem."

"We condemn terrorism and we want more than anything to live in harmony with everyone. We would just like to be open with the officials and talk to them about their suspicions."