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6 terror suspects have medical ties

Police say they have not determined whether the Middle Eastern and Indian doctors were sent to Britain or recruited there.

July 04, 2007|Marjorie Miller | Times Staff Writer

LONDON — At least six of the suspects in the failed London and Glasgow car bombings were foreign doctors or medical personnel working for the National Health Service, but officials still have not determined whether a foreign terrorist group sent them to Britain or whether they may have been recruited here.

Ten people have been arrested or detained for questioning. The majority were known "in some form" to the intelligence community, and were tracked down through cellphones, a security expert close to the government said. Nonetheless, investigators have not determined who led the ring.

"These people were not 'clean skins,' " said Anthony Glees, director of Brunel University's Center for Intelligence and Security Studies in London. Yet, he said, "there is no sense of what the center of gravity of the plot was."

A British security official agreed, adding that some of the suspects had not been questioned.

"It is much too early for anyone to decide how they got together," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is underway.

Police officials and sources have confirmed the arrests of Iraqi, Jordanian and Indian nationals in connection with the car bombs discovered in London early Friday and the fiery automobile attack Saturday on the international airport in Glasgow, Scotland. Detainees also reportedly include medical students from Saudi Arabia and a doctor from Lebanon.

The suspects, apparently all in their mid- to late-20s, include:

* Bilal Abdullah, an Iraqi doctor who worked at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley, Scotland. He has been identified as a passenger in the Jeep Cherokee that plowed into the main terminal of Glasgow Airport and burst into flames. He was detained at the airport at the time of the attack.

* Khalid Ahmed, reported to be the driver of the SUV, who was critically burned in the fire. He is believed to be a doctor who worked and roomed with Abdullah in Paisley and, according to news reports, is from Lebanon. He remains in police custody at the Royal Alexandra Hospital.

* Mohammed Jameel Asha, a Palestinian Jordanian neurosurgeon, who was arrested along with his wife Saturday night on a highway in west-central England. He worked at the North Staffordshire Hospital in nearby Stoke on Trent.

* Mohammed Haneef, an Indian doctor who worked at Halton Hospital in Cheshire, southeast of Liverpool, in 2005. He was detained in Brisbane, Australia, as he was about to board a flight with a one-way ticket.

* Sabeel Ahmed, a postgraduate medical trainee from India, who reportedly worked with Haneef in Cheshire. He was detained Saturday night in Liverpool.

* Two unidentified medical students who lived in a medical residence of the Royal Alexandra Hospital. They are believed to be from Saudi Arabia.

Cellphones provide clues

Police traced the suspects through cellphones left in the London car bombs, apparently as detonators.

"The phones delivered the numbers, the numbers delivered the names and the names tied in with information on security service databases," Glees said.

None of the suspects was under direct surveillance, however, and police had no specific warnings about a plot involving them.

Counter-terrorism experts caution that the suspects had not necessarily been sent to Britain to infiltrate the medical system, but that the system might have provided a relatively easy way into the country. Most, if not all, of the suspects arrived in Britain before April 2006, when the Home Office introduced a work-permit requirement for doctors from countries outside the European Union.

Experts also note that medical skills or access to medical supplies were not an element in either of the attacks, suggesting that the medical system may have served as a means to network.

"They didn't use the access that doctors would have to radioactive materials," Glees said. British intelligence has "long been primed to worry about a radioactive bomb."

There are 27,558 physicians from India, 1,985 from Iraq and 184 from Jordan registered in Britain.

One or more of the detainees may have been radicalized and in touch with extremist networks before arriving, the security analysts said, while others may have been radicalized only after establishing themselves in Britain.

Asha's family in Jordan described him as a moderate in religion and politics and said he did not grow a full beard, a signature feature of radical Muslims, until he moved to England in 2005. Although a beard is a general symbol of religious devotion among Muslims, it could be a sign that he was radicalized in England.

Two men were arrested Tuesday in Blackburn, northeast of Liverpool, on suspicion of terrorism, but police said it was "too early" to say whether the arrests were linked to the failed London plot and the Glasgow attack. They said, however, that a Volvo S40 sedan removed from the area may be connected to the investigation.

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