THE Muslim Council of Scotland is leading a nationwide drive to counteract extremist preachers online trying to radicalise young Islamic men and women.

Yesterday, the MCS and Police Scotland held a seminar entitled Extremism and Radicalisation which was attended by over 50 Imams and mosque representatives, which looked at ways of fighting online preachers espousing the ideology of al-Qaeda and Islamic State.

Such is the fear of online radicalisation the MCS and Police Scotland are also hosting a session related to the dangers of social media at Glasgow Central Mosque next month.

MCS convenor Dr Javed Gill said that despite only two Scots known to have travelled to Syria where they joined Islamic State, religious leaders could not 'afford to be complacent,' especially given the role of the internet in 'seducing' youngsters.

He said: "The biggest challenge we face in Scotland is the dangers posed by the internet in radicalising our youth. We simply cannot control the online content posted by those abroad. It is also vital that parents play a greater role in what their children are watching on the internet. The videos made by the likes of Islamic State are very professional, very appealing. Although the reality on the ground will be completely different from what is portrayed online.

"I have travelled across Scotland and there are no radical preachers in Scottish mosques who are urging Muslims to commit violence abroad or at home. It is vital that a mosque is made more than a place just for prayer. It should be an open environment for young people in terms of organising sports and leisure facilities as well. Such engagement will lead to the youth increasing their knowledge of their religion and foster a more balanced approach as well as getting involved in the decision making process in their local mosque".

Dr Gill also urged mosque authorities to address issues related to family breakdown and gang related violence.

He added: "Imams should speak the language relevant to young people and that is English and address issues such as drugs and anti-social behaviour and not pretend issues like this don't exist. We are seeing a pattern from the killers of Lee Rigby to the attackers in Paris - young men who were street gangsters, who spent time in prison and as they grew older they turned to extremism.

"Some were new to Islam and if those who have converted feel they are being alienated and not supported by the mainstream community, they are vulnerable and will be targeted by extremists."

There are thought to be 600 Britons who have travelled to Syria including two Scots: Abdul Rakib Amin who grew up in Aberdeen and who featured in an IS video in July alongside fellow extremists from Wales; and public school educated Aqsa Mahmood from Glasgow is reportedly in the country after having married a foreign fighter.

In the wake of the attacks at Charlie Hebdo, Rob Wainwright, head of Europe's police organisation, Europol, says the continent is facing is greatest security threat in more than decade from returning jihadis.

Security personnel are also concerned that Islamic extremists from England could be flying from Edinburgh instead of English airports, as it is believed those wishing to fight for IS think security at airports north of the border is not as stringent as those in the South. In May last year Edinburgh Airport announced daily direct flights to Turkey, the last staging post for fighters bound for Syria.

Sarah Marsden, of the Handa Centre for the study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St Andrews, is an expert in global jihadism and has investigated the 'cultural constraints that influence jihadist'.

She said: "Local factors are important in determining whether someone is likely to travel overseas. As well as the complex and highly individualised internal processes associated with the decision to fight in the 'global jihad', there are practical factors that are also influential. For example, networks of friends are important ... As well as groups of friends influencing the distribution of where people travel from, there is also likely to be an impact due to recruiters active in particular areas. These are likely to help with the logistics of getting out to Syria to fight and may result in clusters of people travelling from specific cities or towns. The extent to which those networks exist in Scotland remains to be seen."

Inspector Shaheen Babar from Police Scotland National Safety Community Unit has spoken at various community events to explain the role of the security services in combatting extremism.

Although he admits the numbers leaving from Scotland are low the impact on the community is devastating. He adds that those who wish to help Iraqis and Syrians should do so from Scotland by donating to registered charities.

According to the 2011 census the Muslim population in Scotland is under 80,000. The vast majority are based in the West of Scotland and of Pakistani Punjabi background.

People from ethnic minorities living in Scotland are more likely to call themselves Scottish than their counterparts living in England - who are less inclined to identify themselves as English.

Census data reveals 83 per cent of residents living north of the Border feel Scottish. South of the Border residents from an ethnic background are less likely to claim an English identity .

Sajid Quayum has been involved with a number of Islamic youth related groups in Scotland - and is a founding member of Radio Ramadhan.

He says radical groups like Hizb ut Tahrir and Al Muhajiroun failed to set up base in Scotland due to the socio-economic background of Muslims north of the border - put simply most of Scotland's immigrant Muslim community come from better off and more educated backgrounds than their counterparts in most other parts of the UK.

He said: "During the 90s, they [Hizb ut Tahrir and Al Muhajiroun] did attempt set to set up a presence and organised a few events in Glasgow but could not find enough local individuals who would carry on their work. Their message was based on isolation and separation rather than tolerance and mutual respect. However their main message of establishment of a Caliphate was above all else their downfall as they were told by the likes of us to clear off and set one up in Pakistan.

"Their message of division and separation is an easier sell in inner city London or a segregated northern town rather than in Scotland. The different communities in Scotland are not segregated in ghettos as you get in certain towns and cities in England. There is mixing between various groups. It has been well documented that Scottish Muslims are more comfortable with their Scottish identity and therefore play a more active role in all aspects of Scottish society."

Another community activist Ahmed, who did not want to give his second name, remembers being invited to a meeting in Glasgow in 1996, where 'special guest' Omar Bakri Muhammad spoke. The Syrian born cleric was known as the Tottenham Ayatollah and 'glorified' the 9/11 and 7/7 attacks. He was also a founding member of Hizb ut Tahrir and Al Muhajiroun. In 2005 Bakri left the United Kingdom following stories that the UK Government was planning to investigate certain Muslim clerics under little-used treason laws. He was banned from returning by British Home Secretary Charles Clarke stating that Bakri's presence in Britain was "not conducive to the public good.

Ahmed said of Bakri's visit to Scotland: "Organisers knew they would suffer a backlash from the community if the word got out that Bakri was in town. The meeting was done on the quiet. Only a handful of individuals were invited and nothing came of it.

"If you live in Scotland and want to get involved in such extreme groups then you have to travel to England. But the truth is that now you don't need radical preachers coming to town. With social networking you can communicate directly with someone on the battlefield in any part of the world."

He added: "The Muslim community in Glasgow has also changed. The Pakistanis are part of the furniture but newcomers from the Middle East and Africa are escaping brutal civil wars. Their mind set is different. As they settle and their children grow up - it could throw up difference challenges."

These challenges have seen calls go out now to use returning jihadis to discourage young Muslims from travelling to foreign conflicts and picking up arms.

In the aftermath of the beheadings by ISIS and more recently the attacks in Paris, many politicians including reportedly the Home Secretary, have considered unique tough sanctions against British fighters which include taking away their British passports, in effect making them stateless and therefore denying them the chance to return back to the UK.

However, last week, on a trip to Glasgow, Ahtsham Ali, the Muslim Advisor to the Prison Service in England and Wales, said: "Just like ex-drug addicts are used effectively to discourage others from taking drugs, there should be a key role for certain individuals returning from such conflicts, after being correctly vetted, discouraging others from following their path.

"If British fighters in Syria are dispirited and disillusioned with ISIS, after the stark reality of conflict and the cruelty of ISIS hits them, which they cannot identify with Islam, then in effect they have already been somewhat deradicalised.

"The reality on the ground in Syria is not the same as what they had seen on the TV or online. And many will want to come back. However if there is a threat of them being locked up on their return, they will think, 'Okay I will just stay here'. This will be counter-productive to us. At the same time scrutiny has to be made to identify those returning who may have an intent on terror here."

Ali oversees over 200 Imams or Muslim Chaplains who cater for the religious needs of 14,000 Muslim prisoners. Radicalisation often takes place within prison walls.

He says the overwhelming majority of young Muslims are incarcerated for drug related offences. "In addition we have seen a spike in sex-offences for Muslims, with the recent horrific spate of grooming cases," he remarked.

He says a fracturing of family life, lack of male role models, low educational achievement and aspiration, and intense peer group pressure is seeing young Muslim men turn to crime and being locked up. And interestingly, he said Muslims in England should look to their counterparts in Scotland.

He said: "I admire the aspirations of Muslims in Scotland. The strong emphasis and importance placed on education is sadly missing in many Muslim groups in England. There are a number of other positive aspects, political and social, that we in England can learn from Scotland."

Last night, Humza Yousaf MSP, the Scottish government's minister for international development said: "We are not complacent in Scotland about the threat of radicalisation. Just as someone in Leeds can become radicalised over the internet so too can someone from Lanarkshire - the threat of radicalisation knows no geographic boundaries.

"Having many Muslim friends across the UK and having grown up amongst the Muslim community in Scotland there is little doubt in my mind that integration amongst Scotland's diverse communities is much better here than in other parts of the UK. There are potentially a number of reasons for this such as the socio-economic make-up of the Muslim community in Scotland and the smaller numbers we have here.

"However, I would like to think our tolerance and solidarity as a nation has also contributed in a big way to the relative harmony we see between communities. I remember how our country came together after the attacks on Glasgow Airport, there was no backlash or recriminations, we stood in defiance against terror as one nation."