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Doctor's arrest baffles family

Relatives in Amman, Jordan, say the young man had recently told them of his new job and plans for a trip home.

July 03, 2007|Ranya Kadri and Borzou Daragahi | Special to The Times

AMMAN, JORDAN — Last week, the young immigrant was making plans for a triumphant summer visit home, his father said.

He'd just gotten a new job at a hospital, he told family members, and he recently gave a big neurosurgery speech at a medical institute. His picture had been printed in a local newspaper, he said, and he promised to bring it to Amman. He asked relatives their shoe and shirt sizes so he could buy souvenirs.

" 'Book me a flight for July 12,' " Mohammed Jameel Asha, told his father, Jameel Abdul-Qader Asha. " 'I'm coming with my wife and son.' "

But the young doctor, whose age has been given as either 26 or 27, never made it back home. He was among the eight people arrested thus far in connection with the plot involving two car bombs defused in downtown London and a Jeep driven into an airport terminal in Glasgow, Scotland.

Asha was arrested early Sunday on the M6 highway in Cheshire along with a 27-year-old woman thought to be his wife, Marwa Dana.

British authorities believe the attacks were motivated by extreme Islamic political ideology.

Family members in Amman say they're baffled by the accusations. They remember Asha as a driven, hard-working student more interested in advancing his neurosurgery career than pursuing politics or religion.

"He didn't have time to scratch his head," said the father. "All he did was study."

He did find time, however, to marry his high school sweetheart, who wears the hijab, or head scarf.

Asha prayed regularly, forswore alcohol and attended Friday prayer sessions. In the living room of his bare Amman flat, a small photograph of Mecca is the only piece of decoration.

A Jordanian of Palestinian descent, Asha showed promise early and was granted a full scholarship to a school for gifted students. He graduated in 1998 and tested third in a nationwide exam before attending medical school at Jordan University, where he finished with several awards, relatives said.

After taking an English test in Egypt, he went to England in 2005 for postgraduate training programs and fellowships.

He returned to Jordan to bring his wife, a lab technician, back to Britain. During those visits home, he would show relatives photographs of himself posing with British colleagues.

"The pictures of himself he would bring all were of him and foreigners," said his brother Ahmad. "I would joke with him, saying, 'You're turning English.' "

The family hails from the West Bank city of Hebron. In 1977, his father moved the family to Saudi Arabia, where Asha was born. The Ashas moved to Jordan in 1991, where they bought a three-story apartment complex with six units, each now taken by a member of the family. Asha has five brothers and two sisters.

"All of us were smart," said brother Ahmad. "But Mohammed was the genius."

By his family's accounts, Asha was happy with his life abroad. During the recent telephone conversation with his father, he said that he didn't intend to move back to the Middle East and that he hoped to obtain British citizenship and stay abroad.

Special correspondent Kadri reported from Amman and Times staff writer Daragahi from Cairo.

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