July 3, 2007 in Nation/World

Doctors among eight held in U.K. attacks

Kevin Sullivan and Craig Whitlock Washington Post
Associated Press photo

Mohammed Asha’s mother holds his picture Monday in Amman, Jordan. Asha’s parents denied he was linked to any terror attacks.Associated Press
(Full-size photo)

LONDON – The suspected terrorist cell that allegedly attempted three car bomb attacks in London and Glasgow last weekend was dominated by foreign-born physicians working in British hospitals, according to British officials and news reports.

As many as five of the eight people in police custody in the fast-moving investigation are either doctors or doctors in training, according to the suspects’ neighbors, colleagues and police sources quoted in news reports. One of two men who rammed a burning Jeep Cherokee into Glasgow Airport’s main terminal Saturday was identified as an Iraqi physician.

A police investigation stretching from London through central England to Scotland continued Monday, with officers searching 19 properties and authorities announcing the arrest of three more suspects. Two men, ages 25 and 28, were seized near Glasgow, while a third was taken in Australia, where an official said he was a foreign doctor working at a Queensland hospital.

As security was tightened at airports and train stations and Britain’s terror threat level remained at “critical” – meaning an attack is considered imminent – many Britons expressed surprise at the notion of highly skilled medical professionals allegedly plotting what one analyst called “white-collar terrorism.”

British officials have said the bomb plot appears to be connected to al-Qaida, but they have not offered evidence to support that view.

Edwin Bakker, a Dutch researcher who has studied terror attacks, suggested that the arrests could lead European officials to tighten their relatively loose visa policies for academics or other people with advanced degrees from the Middle East.

One of the Glasgow Airport attackers was Bilal Abdulla, who worked as a doctor at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, according to news reports. Abdulla earned his medical degree in Baghdad in 2004 and began working in Britain in August 2006.

Mohammed Asha was arrested late Saturday with his wife after police cars forced their vehicle to a stop on a highway in central England. Records show that Asha earned his medical degree in Jordan in 2004 and began practicing in Britain in March 2005. His family in Jordan told reporters that Asha, 26, is training to be a neurosurgeon, liked Britain and had no ties with extremist groups.

A third doctor, reportedly from Bangalore, India, was reported to be in police custody after being arrested in Liverpool late Saturday. The Muslim News, a British newspaper, said his detention might have been a case of mistaken identity.

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