Police and Muslims to swap roles so officers can be more sensitive

ANTI-TERROR police hope to participate in role-reversal sessions with Muslims in an attempt to ease concerns about the "harassment" of Scottish Asians travelling through Glasgow Airport.

The away-days are designed to improve relations between police and the Muslim community and reach a common understanding about the need to question people at the airport.

The move, based on a pilot scheme south of the Border called Operation Nicole, is among a raft of proposals that the country's head of anti-terrorism will put to aggrieved Muslims, who say they are continually harassed by repeated interrogations when they arrive in Scotland from Pakistan.

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Other steps drawn up by Assistant Chief Constable Allan Burnett include ensuring special branch officers at ports wear uniforms, the introduction of "behavioural detection" training to teach officers how to spot potential terrorists, visits to mosques to raise cultural awareness and a mentoring scheme for new special branch recruits.

The creation of a new body to maintain dialogue between police and the Muslim community will also be discussed.

But Mr Burnett says Muslims – and Scots in general – have become complacent about the terrorist threat, and he will demand that community leaders "get on board" with efforts to root out potential terrorists.

There has been growing unrest among Scottish Afghans and Pakistanis over the way innocent people have been singled out by police at Glasgow Airport.

In October, about 60 people took part in a protest against alleged "harassment" there. It is claimed travellers from Pakistan are frequently pulled aside and asked questions such as "Do you know where bin Laden is?" and "Do you know anyone in al-Qaeda?" during interrogations sometimes lasting several hours.

Many of those who joined the demonstration are expected to attend a meeting with Mr Burnett in Glasgow tonight. A similar meeting, which will include a round-table discussion about the terrorist threat faced by Scotland, will be held in Edinburgh later this month.

Mr Burnett told The Scotsman that police "can do better" when questioning people at the airport, understanding that support from the Muslim community is vital if Scotland is to defend itself against al-Qaeda-linked attacks.

But he stressed: "I will not agree to anything that will reduce security. We don't want to affect people's lives unduly. But people have to understand we are dealing with a very real terrorist threat."

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The package of measures will, he hopes, "enhance security and ease passenger through-put" at the airport.

He said last week's deadly attacks in Mumbai highlighted the threat posed to cities in Scotland – and he attacked the "complacency" he said had set in among Scottish society since last year's alleged suicide bombing attempt at Glasgow Airport. "That could have been an absolute tragedy with many people killed. We were quickly distracted by the heroics of 'Smeato' and others. We were quick to go back on planes for our holidays, or go back on the London Underground," he said.

"There's something very good about that. But I think, unfortunately, the message about having to report suspicious parcels or people acting suspiciously to the police has been diminished."

He said he was determined to avoid the poor security and emergency response after the Mumbai attacks, which killed at least 174 people. "Listening to Indian CNN, it was all about authorities being caught with their pants down. It's my job to see we don't get caught with our pants down because of complacency," he said.

But Mr Burnett's proposals received a cool reception from Hanif Raja, chairman of the Pakistan Forum Scotland. "We are more concerned about al-Qaeda, and more protective of Scotland, than anyone. It is wrong to single us out on the basis of our religion. The police are being heavy-handed," he said.