Glasgow Suspect Angered by Iraq War, Relative Says

By Karla Adam and Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, July 6, 2007

LONDON, July 5 -- Bilal Abdulla, one of the two doctors arrested after a blazing Jeep Cherokee rammed into the Glasgow Airport terminal on Saturday, is a deeply religious Iraqi who was angry that his prominent Sunni family "lost everything" following the 2003 invasion led by the United States and Britain, according to a close family member.

"He was hurt by the destruction of his family's property in Iraq," the relative said during a 2 1/2 -hour interview in Cambridge, England. "I think he wanted to be a martyr. He wanted to send out a message to withdraw troops from Iraq. He wanted to cause chaos and fear; he didn't want to kill people. He fears God, and all he wanted to do was die."

The relative provided a detailed account of one of eight suspects -- all of them doctors or other medical professionals -- in custody in connection with the Glasgow attack and a related incident Friday in which two Mercedes sedans packed with propane cylinders and nails were left on crowded London streets but failed to detonate. The relative, who said he had seen Abdulla frequently, spoke on condition of anonymity.

Abdulla has not been charged. But he has emerged as one of the central figures in the alleged plot since police wrestled him to the ground next to the burning Jeep at the airport. A news photo of Abdulla, wearing a singed white T-shirt, being led away by police has become one of the most familiar images of an episode that has startled Britons, in particular because the suspects are all in the medical field.

The Glasgow-area suburban home where Abdulla reportedly lived, and where neighbors reported seeing a Jeep Cherokee, has been sealed off by anti-terrorism police. British media have reported that police suspect the failed car bombs may have been assembled there.

Colleagues at Royal Alexandra Hospital, where Abdulla and the Jeep's driver worked, said in interviews that Abdulla, who earned his medical degree in Baghdad in 2004, had been warned at the hospital that he was spending too much time perusing Arabic-language Web sites instead of tending to his duties.

Abdulla entered the medical profession reluctantly, pressured by his father, who is a professor of orthopedic medicine in Iraq, the relative said. "He was forced into studying medicine. His heart was not in it," the relative said. "To be honest, he passed because his father was a well-known professor, and that's the way it worked in Iraq."

Abdulla, 27, was born in England when his father was studying medicine at a British university. The family moved back to Baghdad when Abdulla was 2, and he grew up as an extremely religious boy, influenced by his father, who would wake his children for prayers each day at 5 a.m.

"He memorized the Koran when he was a small boy," the relative said. "I remember once during Ramadan, he would lock the door and for 10 days he'd read and pray, read and pray, and that's all."

The relative said Abdulla was the oldest son of an "important Sunni family" that thrived during the rule of Saddam Hussein, also a Sunni, although Abdulla didn't like Hussein. "Whatever his family wanted, they got," the relative said. Abdulla's mother is a pharmacist, and he has a brother who is a doctor and a sister who is a pharmacist.

Abdulla quit medical school in Baghdad and returned to England in 2000, the relative said. He spent considerable time at the Cambridge Muslim Welfare Society mosque, not far from the world-famous university. Hicham Kwieder, secretary of the mosque, said Abdulla rented a house from the mosque and was a regular at Friday prayers.

"When there was no mullah at the mosque, Bilal would preach in his place," the relative said. "If he could have another job, he'd be a mullah."

The relative said Abdulla sometimes seemed troubled that year. "I saw him praying one time and he was crying. I could see the tears in his eyes. I think he probably needs a consultant or psychiatrist to talk to him."

Abdulla went back to Iraq and was there when U.S. and British troops invaded in March 2003. The fortunes of his family soon changed dramatically. Several houses they owned were destroyed in fighting, and tenants stopped paying rent. The country's majority Shiite Muslim population rose to prominence.

The relative's account matches a description by Shiraz Maher, a friend who remembered Abdulla from Cambridge when they both lived there. Writing in the New Statesman magazine, Maher described Abdulla as a "very humble and polite" man who "developed a vitriolic hatred for the Shias after one of his closest friends at university in Iraq was killed by a Shia militiaman."

Abdulla completed his medical degree and returned to England in 2004, the relative said. He was given a free room above a Bangladeshi kebab restaurant in return for tutoring the owner's children in religion, chemistry and biology.

He followed news from Iraq "intensely over the Internet," said the relative. Back home, sectarian violence mounted and his family's problems continued to compound. Late last year, they moved to Jordan "because Baghdad was dangerous and they were scared they might be killed," the relative said.

He said he didn't know what or who might have influenced Abdulla. However, concerning al-Qaeda, "he liked what they were doing in Iraq."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company