Terrorist fears after mystery explosion in forest

A COUNTER-TERROR operation was under way last night in a quiet beauty spot after a mysterious explosion in Scottish woodland.

Police stand guard at the entrance to Ross Priory last night following the explosion in Garadhban Forest. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA

Anti-terrorism and bomb disposal experts from the Metropolitan Police and the Royal Navy have been called in after a walker heard what sounded like a bomb going off in Garadhban Forest, Loch Lomond.

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When police officers arrived, they uncovered several explosive devices and found that a tree had been blown up.

Two areas of land were cordoned off to make the area safe.

Shops and businesses in the nearby village of Gartocharn have been asked to hand over CCTV as a matter of urgency, and villagers and National Park staff have been told to report any suspicious activity they have seen in recent days.

Police have promised to continue intensive patrols in the area for the next three days, and a spokesman for the Scottish Government said ministers were being kept informed.

Officers refused to speculate on the motives for the explosion, but an expert said the signs all pointed towards an act of terrorism.

David Capitanchik, an international terrorism expert and honorary professor at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, said: "It would be an ideal place for terrorists to set up bombs and look at ways of exploding them.

"At the time of the attack on Glasgow Airport there were another two cars in central London with bombs in them which did not explode.

"They were maybe looking at ways of effecting an explosion, and doing it far away from anyone. They would think they could do it there and not be noticed."

He predicted MI5 would also have been called up, along with the bomb disposal and terrorism experts.

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Strathclyde Police, which is leading the operation, has not released details of the type of explosions used.

Prof Capitanchik said: "If it was a wartime bomb or something to do with forestry they would have said that right away.

• Bomb disposal experts hone their skills on Second World War mines

• Forest area a beauty spot popular with walkers and bird watchers

The fact that they are taking time and not saying anything at all suggests to me that they do suspect that what they have discovered is terrorist activity to some extent."

Chief Superintendent Calum Murray, divisional commander for Argyll, Bute and West Dunbartonshire, said: "I can confirm that we are currently being assisted by agencies from across the UK."I would stress that the site is secure and that there is no risk to public safety."

He added: "This is an ongoing investigation that is going to take some time to complete.

"We will release more information as that investigation progresses."

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Stuart King, manager of the House of Darrach coffee shop in Gartocharn, said he received a phone call from police on Wednesday night, hours after the explosion was heard.

He said: "I was asked if I could meet them here as a matter of urgency and told that they wanted to access our CCTV system.

"I was here for four hours with two CID officers and the CCTV officers that work with Strathclyde Police."

The drama began when a member of the public heard an explosion while walking along footpaths among woodland near Ross Priory, a landmark 19th-century building owned by Strathclyde University and used for weddings and conferences, at about noon on Wednesday.

He called Strathclyde Police, and officers called the Ministry of Defence, which sent the Royal Navy's Northern Diving Group, based at HM Naval Base Clyde. They made sure the explosive devices were safe before taking them away for testing.

Ruth Crosbie, PR and media manager for the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority, which owns the land, said: "We've been asked by Strathclyde Police to ask National Park rangers if they've seen any suspicious activity and to report it.

"It's a highly unusual situation for people to be faced with and obviously I would encourage people to get in touch with the police."

She added: "There are paths for ramblers who want to walk there, but it's kind of out of the way, so not a lot of people know about it."

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Local councillor Ronnie McColl, leader of West Dunbartonshire Council, said: "I think people are surprised. Certainly, it's a very close-knit community. The explosion happened about a mile from the village, in a wooded area, well away from any houses. It's very secluded. If they were going to let off a device that's where they would do it."

West Dunbartonshire Council's emergency planning team has been updating councillors on developments.

Annabel Goldie, West of Scotland MSP and Scottish Conservative leader, said: "This is worrying news, but I am heartened by the speedy response of the emergency services and bomb disposal squads.There will no doubt be speculation about what has happened, but the priority must be to keep the area secure and the public safe while the facts are established."

Richard Baker, Scottish Labour justice spokesman, said: "It's very worrying if this does turn out, in any way, to be linked with terrorism. What's very important is, as soon as appropriate, police provide further information about exactly what happened."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "Strathclyde Police are currently investigating this incident and are keeping ministers informed of their progress. They have reassured us that there is no threat to public safety."

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