A SCHEME to deradicalise Scots who have fallen prey to Islamic extremists will be launched by anti-terror chiefs, Scotland on Sunday can reveal.
Vulnerable individuals – including children – will be targeted under the plan, which is aimed at preventing disaffected young Muslims from becoming involved in terrorism.
The initiative, to be modelled on an English programme, will also be open to people being lured into other forms of political violence, such as fanatics on the fringes of Scottish nationalism or the animal rights movement.
Authorities south of the Border last year revealed they had put in place secret measures to wean people off extremism. Their scheme – the Channel Project – claims to have turned around more than 200 people believed to have been vulnerable to terror recruiters, either face-to-face or online. Graduates of the programme include a 13-year-old white boy who converted to Islam and became obsessed with beheading, and a 50-year-old man.
Now a senior civil servant in the Scottish Government has confirmed a "tartanised" version of the Channel Project will be launched. Nick Croft, of the Preventing Violent Extremism Unit, told a terrorism conference last week: "Within the next six months we will see a Channel process come to Scotland." He was speaking after Aamer Anwar, a solicitor who has defended terror suspects, had told the same Edinburgh conference that there was little or no support for offenders or alleged offenders flirting with extremist ideas.
A Scottish Channel Project would see parents, teachers, social workers and others able to refer individuals for a whole variety of interventions.
Officials fine-tuning the project will have to wrestle with guidelines to separate those at risk of being lured into terrorism and those who have gone too far, such as Mohammed Atif Siddique, the student from Alva, Clackmannanshire, jailed for eight years for internet-related terrorist offences.
However, they would be building on expertise south of the Border, where 228 individuals have apparently been deradicalised: nobody referred to the Channel Project has gone on to offend. UK officials now say they have a clear profile of the kind of person who could be lured into political violence. Islamist terrorists, experts believe, often target young men who know little of their religion, either converts or "reverts", and who have personal problems or chaotic lifestyles. Most of those identified in the Channel Project have been under 25. Nine out of ten were seen as vulnerable to al-Qaeda-inspired terror groups.
However, English authorities have also identified individuals who could succumb to other extremists, including those on the far right.
The Home Office and police kept the Channel Project under wraps until last year, citing "sensitivities". Practitioners stress they are not spying on their subjects, merely trying to make them more "resilient" to extremism. In some cases, individuals have been helped into training or education; in others, youth work. For some, especially young Muslims, imams have helped them understand that Muslim theology opposes the kind of indiscriminate violence celebrated by al-Qaeda.
Moreover, insiders stress that they could have helped several high-profile terrorists stay out of trouble – if they had been alerted to their behaviour. They cite the example of Nick Reilly, a white Briton with Asperger's who tried to blow up a caf in Exeter. Reilly, who injured only himself in the 2008 attack, had converted to Islam after reading extremist websites and knew little about the religion.
Extremists north of the Border have targeted similarly vulnerable people. Tartan terrorist Paul Smith was just 17 when he was convicted of trying to poison Cherie Blair. He had previously shown signs of extreme views and threatening behaviour. Although firmly focused on al-Qaeda, counter-terrorism officers in Scotland keep a close eye on other violent extremists, including those on the far right and on the violent fringes of Scottish nationalism.
Osama Saeed, chief executive of the Scottish-Islamic Foundation, has cast doubt on the commitment of Scottish authorities to deal with violent racists. He said: "I think we are going to have to wait and see if they are going to take right-wing extremists as seriously as al-Qaeda terrorists."
The Association of Police Chief Officers in Scotland last night declined to confirm Croft's assertion that Channel would be up and running north of the Border in six months. A spokeswoman said the body was consulting on "all aspects" of Contest 2, the UK government's anti-terror strategy.