Foreign Doctors Queried in Bomb Plot
Wednesday, July 4, 2007
LONDON, July 3 -- Police investigating last weekend's failed bomb attacks in London and Glasgow on Tuesday questioned foreign-born doctors who are suspected of plotting the attacks, while a suspicious piece of luggage at Heathrow Airport forced the evacuation of thousands of travelers and the cancellation of more than 100 flights.
All eight suspects now in custody are believed to have worked for Britain's National Health Service, seven as doctors or medical students and one as a laboratory technician, according to officials and British media reports. One of the eight is being held in Australia. The suspects are said to have earned their medical degrees in Iraq, Jordan, India and other countries before immigrating to Britain.
A British counterterrorism official said investigators were pursuing a theory that one or two of the doctors might have recruited other members of the alleged cell after arriving in the United Kingdom. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there was no evidence that the entire group was formed outside the country, although it remains unclear exactly how the suspects may have come to know one another.
While anti-terrorism police at Scotland Yard, who formally took over the investigation Tuesday, declined to comment, accounts of the broad outline of the alleged plot continued to seep out in widespread news accounts.
The two men who rammed a blazing Jeep Cherokee packed with propane gas canisters into Glasgow Airport's main terminal on Saturday were reported to be doctors from Iraq who worked at Royal Alexandra Hospital a few miles from the airport. Some reports said they were also suspected of driving the two Mercedes sedans, packed with propane gas and nails, that were left in a busy downtown London district Friday night; the cars failed to detonate.
The driver of the Jeep, who was being treated at the hospital for severe burns suffered in the attack, was identified in several reports as Khalid Ahmed. According to records at the General Medical Council, Britain's medical regulator, a Khalid Ahmed earned his medical degree in Mosul, Iraq, in 1993 and became registered to practice in Britain in July 2004. Doctors said he had a slim chance of survival, with burns to 90 percent of his body.
The other man in the car was reportedly Bilal Abdulla, a doctor who did his training in Baghdad. He was arrested at the scene but transferred to London for questioning.
Abdulla worked at the hospital in a supervised role as a trainee doctor, according to medical officials. Co-workers described Abdulla -- whose job was to fill in for other doctors when they were not available -- as being absent from work often and more interested in scanning Arabic Web sites than working.
The BBC on Tuesday evening identified a suspect arrested in Liverpool on Sunday as Sabeel Ahmed, 26. According to the General Medical Council, a doctor by that name earned his medical degree in 2005 at the Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences in India.
Police said two men attempting to buy propane gas canisters were arrested on terrorism-related charges Tuesday in Blackburn, northern England. Police did not immediately say whether the arrests were linked to the London and Glasgow incidents.
At Heathrow Airport on Tuesday, police ordered the evacuation of Terminal 4 after a suspicious bag was found about 11 a.m. The terminal reopened six hours later; the bag apparently proved harmless. The canceled flights included at least seven bound for the United States on the day before the July 4 holiday.
Some terrorism analysts said it was likely that the suspects received guidance or direction from abroad. Investigations into virtually all major terrorist plots planned by Islamic radicals in Britain -- including the July 7, 2005, subway bombings and a similar failed attack two weeks later -- have shown that at least some of the conspirators were trained or recruited in Pakistan or other al-Qaeda sanctuaries.