A LEADING police officer has claimed the Highlands and Islands could be a soft option for Islamic terrorists planning attacks in the UK.

The vast area has 10 airports, railway stations, ports attracting cruise liners with thousands of passengers, a nuclear establishment and the oil and gas industry, leaving no shortage of potential targets in an area that stretches from Unst to the Vatersay and from John O’ Groats to Glencoe.

Chief Superintendent Julian Innes, the area’s divisional commander, had launched a campaign to increase the need for vigilance before last week’s terrorist attacks in Brussels.

He said: “The Highlands and Islands covers one sixth of the land mass of the UK, a massive geography.

“But in the last couple of years we have been recognising that it may be seen as an easy place to come to commit terrorist activity. We have to recognise the national infrastructure we have here, particularly in Orkney and Shetland with the oil and gas industry.”

As long ago as the IRA campaigns of the 1970s, oil rigs were talked of as possible targets, and the need for security addressed. Mr Innes said that continues.

He said: “Security is quite tight round the oil and gas industry. But there is no complacency. In the emergency planning world we are constantly discussing, trialling and testing in response mode,what we would do if something significant happened; how we would deal

with it.”

The nuclear facility at Dounreay overlooking the Pentland Firth was also long seen as a possible target. So was the Ministry of Defence’s HMS Vulcan establishment next door where Royal Navy submarine nuclear propulsion plants were tested.

Mr Innes said: “Dounreay is policed by the civil nuclear constabulary and Vulcan is managed by the MoD police. There is always an armed presence on these sites given the risk. Dounreay is in a decommissioning phase, but there is still nuclear material there and as long as there is, there will be an armed presence.”

But other new possibilities have emerged. Scottish ports are set to enjoy a record year for cruise liner business with passengers projected to top 500,000 for the first time, with most landing at ports in the Highlands and Islands from Shetland south to Oban and the Cromarty Firth.

Mr Innes said of this influx of foreign visitors: “That raises issues for us because some of their targets we have seen across Europe, including Belgium, have been specifically in and around where people gather in crowded places. We have that in the Highlands and Islands every time a cruise liner comes into one of our ports.“But we also have it in the Eastgate Centre in Inverness, where we have a lot of people going through on most days of the week.”

He said that it was worth noting that radicalisation was very easy across the internet, going into individual homes anywhere in the world.

But the police have also been looking at themselves even in the most remote outposts.

He said: “The threat to police officers in the country is quite high just now, so we have upped

security at all our buildings and establishments.”

The thing is that up here we tend to know each other, so we have perhaps not always been as good at signing people in or checking IDs. But we have now raised our game significantly. That’s just to make sure we don’t miss the obvious.”

They have also been briefing other organisations “Not to cause alarm but just to raise awareness and to put some simple steps in place to ensure that if the worst was to happen to use here, we would be prepared for it.

“We have been talking to the University of the Highlands and Islands, the four local authorities (Highland , Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland), the Fire Service , the voluntary sector, and the health board. This has been well received by these partners, and not seen as alarmist.”