The head of armed policing in Scotland and his deputy are among the officers being investigated as part of a probe into criminal and misconduct allegations, the Justice Secretary has said.

Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins was suspended on Friday by the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) after allegations were brought to the oversight body's attention by the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Pirc).

Superintendent Kirk Kinnell and Chief Inspector Bob Glass were also suspended, according to the Sunday Mail newspaper.

Asked about the newspaper's report on the BBC's Sunday Politics Scotland, Michael Matheson said: "I think at this stage it wouldn't be appropriate for me to start mentioning names of those particular officers.

"But the two which I know that have been suggested are individuals who were involved in the investigation.

"As far as I'm aware, they are two of those who are part of the complaint that's been received by the Pirc that's now being investigated by the Crown Office."

The Justice Secretary added: "The individuals who are involved in this are related to those involved in the firearms unit within Police Scotland and the training facility which we have at Jackton."

One other officer has been suspended while a further two have been placed on restricted duties.

Asked what the allegations relate to, Mr Matheson continued: "I don't want to get drawn into it too much because it is a live investigation that is now being directed by the Crown.

"But, as far as I'm aware, it relates to issues of misconduct and gross misconduct.

"The exact detail of that is for the Crown to determine because it is now a live, potentially criminal, investigation."

He went on: "Like any investigation that could be criminal in nature, it is important that we recognise there is due process to be gone through there.

"The SPA have considered the matter on the basis of what has been provided to them by the Pirc, and the Crown Office are now directing this investigation.

"So I think it's important we don't get drawn into speculating about the nature of the actual complaint and the actual details of it, given that this is a matter that's now being directed by the Crown Office and is now being investigated."

In a statement released by Police Scotland on Friday, Deputy Chief Constable Iain Livingstone said: "I can confirm that Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins was suspended today by the Scottish Police Authority.

"In addition, three other officers have been suspended, and two others placed on restricted duties, by Deputy Chief Constable Rose Fitzpatrick.

"This is connection with an investigation by the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner."

The force would not comment further on the names of other officers involved.

A statement from the Pirc said: "Following receipt of anonymous allegations of criminality by officers, including a senior officer, serving with Police Scotland, the Commissioner referred the allegations to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (Copfs).

"This was to allow the Copfs to consider whether the criminal allegations should be investigated by the Commissioner.

"The Copfs decided that an independent investigation should be carried out by the Pitc and this is now under way."

The Pirc is also looking into separate allegations of misconduct against Chief Constable Phil Gormley, who is on special leave.

Mr Gormley and Mr Higgins have both denied any wrongdoing.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: "The Justice Secretary needs to make a statement to Parliament to set out how leadership of Police Scotland will be secured while the months of investigation take place into senior officers.

"The public and all ranks of the police service deserve to hear the means by which effective force management will be provided."

Mr Rennie said the SPA's new chair Susan Deacon should also appear before MSPs.

"The police authority and ministers share responsibility for the work of the centralised police force.

"So it is right for parliament to have the opportunity to make sure that there are no dangerous gaps left in terms of experience and command," he said.