Scotland is more open to Muslims, claims senior police officer

Muslims living in Scotland tend to feel more part of society than those staying elsewhere in the UK, a senior police officer has claimed.

A man prays at a mosque in Edinburgh. Around 77,000 Muslims live in Scotland. Picture: Robert Perry

Detective Chief Superintendent Gerry McLean, who leads Police Scotland’s counterterrorism unit, said that as a result of better integration the country was not a target of Islamist terrorism.

“There’s definitely something about how Scottish communities feel, there is a degree of inclusiveness,” he said in an interview with The Times.

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“Muslims perhaps feel more part of Scottish society and day-to-day life. They will have a wide range of political opinions, they will have views on global events, some of them will be very vocal, but at the same time they don’t want to advance that in terms of hurting people or society.”

Around 77,000 Muslims live in Scotland, making up 1.4 per cent of the population. In comparison, the Muslim population in England stands at 2.6 million.

The attack on Glasgow Airport in 2007 was the last time an act of terrorism took place north of the Border. Five members of the public were injured, none seriously.

Mr McLean told the newspaper he was grateful his team did not face the same operational demands as his counterparts in England.

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Last year a suicide bombing at the Manchester Arena killed 23 people, including 14-year-old Eilidh MacLeod from Barra.

An attack on London Bridge that same year left 13 people dead and 100 injured.

The unit led by Mr McLean doubles as Police Scotland’s organised crime force. He said there were similarities between those choosing a life of crime and terrorism.

“This is about young men and women at an early stage in their lives who make decisions about what path they are going to go down,” he said.

“In doing so they make themselves susceptible to others who want to exploit them, some for crime purposes, others for more radical purposes.”

The senior officer acknowledged that while major public events, such as the Edinburgh festivals, did bring terrorism risks, the threat level was low.

But he added that the trend for spontaneous attacks, typically involving a lone attacker armed with an improvised weapon such as a van, made it hard to get ahead of terrorists.

“That’s obviously a concern when you get to these large-scale events,” he said. “But that goes back to hopefully how people, communities fee, that they don’t feel too disenfranchised.”