ALEX Salmond has boosted the cause of radical Islam in Scotland in his response to the Glasgow Airport attack, a leading Scots academic on religious affairs has claimed.
In a fiercely controversial commentary, Tom Gallagher, the chair of Peace Studies at Bradford University, said that Salmond had courted "radical voices" in the Muslim community following the attempted bombings, lending them a false layer of legitimacy.
He also accuses Salmond of deliberately setting out to exploit the attack to win favour with Muslims in Scotland, comparing the First Minister's style at one point to former Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser.
The comments triggered a furious backlash last night, with claims they amounted to Islamophobia. Salmond's aides meanwhile described them as "ridiculous".
Gallagher's attack, published on the website Open Democracy, was aimed primarily at the Scottish leader of the Muslim Association of Britain, Osama Saeed, who was also an SNP candidate in this year's Scottish elections.
Saeed was among the most prominent figures to speak for the Muslim community following the bombings, which he unreservedly condemned.
However, Gallagher accuses Saeed of being an "unapologetic advocate of the hardline Islamism" and accuses him of deceiving Scots following the attack by hiding his real agenda. He attacks Salmond for giving Saeed a platform.
He said: "The Muslim community has been done a great disservice by the SNP which has courted the more radical voices in the community and the result is that it will alter the balance of power in the Muslim community. I'm all for Muslims playing a full role in Scottish life but I think we need to do all we can to question those who just want Muslims to be oppositional and to have international loyalties."
In the article, Gallagher concludes: "The resources of political Scotland are at present being mobilised on the [Muslim] community's behalf, but not always in a thoughtful or acceptable way."
He accuses Salmond of using the attack for political gain.
"Alex Salmond has used the airport attack as an opportunity to place his party at the foreground of national affairs in much the same way as Tony Blair used the death of Princess Diana in 1997 to project himself as New Labour's leader of destiny," he said.
Gallagher claimed that the SNP was singling out Muslims in the belief that many in the community are appealed by a pro-Scottish message.
"Alex Salmond may never have worn a uniform, but he is projecting himself to religious minorities previously loyal to the Labour party - not just Muslims but the much larger Catholic one mainly drawn from past waves of Irish immigrants - as Scotland's answer to Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt or the Irish leader Michael Collins, who both struck out against an overmighty Britain in the last century with impressive effect."
Saeed has now accused Gallagher of Islamophobia, saying there was no basis for the academic's attack. He added: "What he is arguing is that everyone who believes in Islam needs to have some kind of witch-hunt placed over them."