More arrests of Muslim doctors expected in UK car bomb attack probes - terror network of foreign physicians suspected
July 2, 2007
Police probe foreign doctor terror theory
By Stephen Fidler and Ben Hall
Published: July 2 2007 22:11 | Last updated: July 2 2007 22:11
Police were investigating on Monday whether a network of foreign doctors was responsible for three failed bomb attacks in London and Glasgow.
Two doctors – one who qualified in Jordan and one in Iraq – were identified as being among eight people arrested in the investigation that followed two failed car bomb attacks early on Friday and an attempt to drive a car bomb into Glasgow airport on Saturday. The police confirmed the arrest of two more people on Monday in the Glasgow area. Scotland Yard disclosed Monday night that an eighth person had been arrested at an undisclosed destination, although the BBC reported that the arrest took place overseas.
The developments are likely to trigger reviews of immigration procedures that allow foreign-qualified doctors into the UK to help fill shortages in the National Health Service.
The British Medical Association said it had already become harder since last year for doctors from outside Europe to take up training posts in the UK, following an increase in UK medical school graduates.
The manhunt continued for others connected to the plot. A person briefed on the investigation said that the number eventually arrested could double, and include more medical practitioners.
The driver of the flaming car at Glasgow airport was named as Bilal Abdulla, who qualified in Baghdad as a doctor in 2004. He suffered severe burns in the attack and remained in a critical condition at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley – where he had been working.
Police said they carried out one controlled detonation of a vehicle in the grounds of the hospital, but said it was a precautionary move and there was no indication it contained explosives.
Mohammed Asha, who qualified as a doctor in Jordan in the same year, was arrested on Saturday night with his wife travelling north on the M6.
The investigation has moved rapidly since two cars were found on Friday with the un- exploded devices inside. The cars have yielded many clues, including DNA evidence. Police have not released any pictures of the suspects in spite of plentiful closed circuit television coverage of the would-be bombers in London – suggesting they are confident they have found those who planted the devices or know who they are.
Britain's threat level on Monday remained at critical, indicating that another attack could be imminent.
Jacqui Smith, Britain's new home secretary, said searches had been carried out in at least 19 locations. She outlined extra security measures in force across the country, including high-visibility patrols, armed response vehicles, increased use of stop-and-search powers, and tighter controls on access roads to airports.
In an emergency statement to parliament, Ms Smith thanked the public for "their patience and measured response to these events". In a change of tone from her predecessors in Tony Blair's government, Ms Smith steered clear of blaming the attacks on radical Islam or of evoking a "war on terror".
A Downing Street spokesman said the government wanted to pursue a more "consensual" approach to counter-terrorism.
The extra measures were on top of longer-term improvements to security. The police and intelligence services had already advised 450 sporting venues and 400 shopping centres in recent months on how to tighten security, she said.
Two Arab doctors among British plot suspects
By Mark Trevelyan and Michael Holden
LONDON, July 2 (Reuters) - Two Arab doctors, both licensed to work in Britain, are among seven people arrested in connection with two failed London car bombs and an attack on a Scottish airport, a police source said on Monday.
The source named Bilal Abdulla, who qualified as a doctor in Baghdad in 2004, as one of the men held after ramming a jeep into a Glasgow airport terminal and setting it alight in a spectacular fireball on Saturday.
Mohammed Asha, 26, a second doctor who qualified in Jordan the same year, was arrested with his wife on Saturday evening when unmarked police cars blocked a motorway in northern England to stop their car.
Scotland Yard police declined to comment on a report on the Web site Muslim News that another suspect, arrested in Liverpool, was also a doctor, from India.
British authorities say the Glasgow attack and the London bombs are linked, and suspect radical Islamists of being behind them. None of the suspects has been charged, and police have up to four weeks to question them.
A security source told Reuters there was no indication the alleged plot involved bioterrorism or required specialist medical knowledge.
The source declined to discuss the individuals arrested but said that in previous investigations "we have seen people who are well educated, from good middle-class backgrounds. I don't think it's a surprise."
Britain's National Health Service employs large numbers of foreign doctors.
A spokeswoman for the General Medical Council, with whom both Abdulla and Asha are registered to work in Britain, said: "We are in contact with the police and will be cooperating with them where it's appropriate to do so."
Foreign doctors coming to Britain must pass written tests and a clinical examination, and inquiries are also made with their home universities.
"We validate your medical qualifications with the university where you studied, we validate your identity, we go through a series of checks," spokeswoman Tanya Royer said.
Successful applicants gain 'limited registration', entitling them to work as junior doctors in Britain typically for six months to one year, with a maximum of five years, she said.
Royer said security vetting would be an issue for Britain's Home Office, which has required visas only since last year for foreign doctors coming to work in the country.
A switchboard operator at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley, near Scotland's biggest city Glasgow, said Abdulla worked there. Media reports said Asha worked as a neurologist at North Staffordshire Hospital in central England.
Police were carrying out searches at both sites on Monday.
Asha's father Jameel said his son was a good Muslim who had never shown any interest in political Islam. "He prayed like any Muslim but was not a fanatic," he told Reuters in Jordan, where Mohammed was raised, having been born in Saudi Arabia.
He said Mohammed and his wife arrived in Britain in late 2004 and had a son, Anas, who was nearly 18 months old.