A HARD core of 20 Islamic extremists with links to foreign terror groups is operating north of the Border and poses a "significant" risk to public safety, Scotland on Sunday can reveal.
Senior intelligence insiders have revealed the suspects - many of them born and brought up in Scotland - pose a similar threat to that of Mohammed Atif Siddique, the Scottish Asian who was last week given an eight-year prison sentence for terrorist offences.
Scotland on Sunday can also reveal that concern at the terror threat is now so great that up to 1,000 Scottish Asians will be placed under surveillance in coming months because they associate with known radicals.
Special Branch, backed by MI5 officers, will carry out checks on the individuals looking for evidence of radicalisation such as changes in clothing and increased mosque attendance.
Security sources deny targeting the Asian community and say the move is essential to prevent terrorist outrages and curb the growth of extremism. But community leaders and civil rights experts last night warned it could cause a backlash and reduce cooperation.
Siddique, Scotland's first 'homegrown terrorist', was convicted of possessing materials related to terrorism. Sources claimed the 21-year-old from Alva, Clackmannanshire, was planning to become a suicide bomber. The case followed the July attack on Glasgow Airport.
A senior source told Scotland on Sunday their investigation had uncovered around 200 "hardcore" individuals in Scotland. Of these, some 20 are of "significant interest", meaning they have been in contact - either through websites or face-to-face meetings - with known radicals abroad.
The 20 are under round-the-clock surveillance and their e-mails and mobile and landline calls are being monitored by GCHQ. Provided they do not pose an immediate risk, security officers are unlikely to make arrests until more evidence is gathered and associations with others are fully examined.
Sources say the larger group of 200 have come under scrutiny because they associate with the hard core and their behaviour gives cause for concern.
But now the security services are widening the net still further by looking at around four to five acquaintances of the 200, up to a total of 1,000.
"What we are trying to do is to prevent another Siddique from happening. We want to identify these people at the earliest possible opportunity and make sure they do not develop the way he did," said the source.
Checks will include regular assessments of how they act within the wider community, what they wear, whether they are becoming more religious or becoming involved in leafleting or petty crime, which could be helping to raise funds for an illegal group.
Anyone who "ticks all the boxes" will be passed on for more intense scrutiny by the security services.
Human rights lawyer Amar Anwar, who represents Siddique, said the policy risked isolating a whole community. "To fight terrorism, intelligence from the community is essential but what they are talking about here is racial profiling. If MI5 adopts this approach then they may as well round up half the Muslim community because they are becoming more religious and more politicised."
Arun Kundnani, of the Institute for Race Relations, echoed that view. He said: "There are lots of cases of British Asians being arrested for wearing Islamic clothing or growing a beard, but the number of people who end up being convicted for terror offences is miniscule. It just creates the impression that the state is targeting a community and a religion and that cannot be helpful."
John Scott, a human rights lawyer, said: "This announcement is worrying for a number of reasons. The intelligence services have not got a particularly good reputation for accuracy in identifying individuals who pose a threat to national security."
But Paul Martin, Labour MSP for Glasgow Springburn, welcomed the move, saying it was vital to prevent another terrorist outrage.
"If the security services have a profile or methods of profiling then they should use them. We are all very good with 20/20 vision after an event but what I would like to see is us having a bit better vision beforehand."
Prominent Glasgow businessman and Muslim Mohammed Goundal said he feared that putting large numbers of people under surveillance could be counterproductive.
He said: "I do oppose any form of radicalism and if the authorities do have strong evidence that individuals are involved then of course they should act. But the entire Muslim community should not be put under suspicion."
Source: Scotsman (English) h/t Islamophobia Watch