British terror probe focuses on doctors

Updated: 2007-07-04 00:13
Large Medium Small
British police focused Tuesday on at least four physicians with roots outside Britain — including a doctor seized at an Australian airport with a one-way ticket — in the investigation into failed car bombings in Glasgow and London.

British terror probe focuses on doctors
A police officer stands outside the Forth Street Mosque in Glasgow, Scoatland, Tuesday, July 3, 2007, after bomb disposal officers performed controlled explosions on a car in the car park. The controlled explosion was carried out early Tuesday morning on a suspicious car parked outside the mosque in Glasgow, the city were two men attempted to set off a car bomb at the airport on Saturday. Police said there was no indication that the mosque had any connection to the bombing attempt in Glasgow, or to two cars packed with gasoline and gas canisters discovered in London on Friday. [AP]
British terror probe focuses on doctors

Separately, two men were arrested in an industrial park in northwestern England under the Terrorism Act on Tuesday, but a statement from Lancashire police said it was "too early to confirm whether or not these arrests are linked to recent events in London and Glasgow."

At least four of the eight suspects directly tied to the terror investigation were identified as doctors from Iraq, Jordan and India. One of the doctors from India, 27-year-old Muhammad Haneef, was arrested at Brisbane's international airport where he was trying to board a flight, the Australian attorney general said.

A British official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, confirmed Tuesday that the Jordanian's wife also was arrested.

British media reported that at least two other people detained Sunday were trainee physicians.

Mark Shone, a spokesman for Halton Hospital in England, said Haneef worked there in 2005 as a temporary doctor, coming in when needed. He also confirmed a 26-year-old man arrested in Liverpool late Saturday — also Indian — practiced at the hospital but he would not provide the man's name or further details.

Amid increased security at British airports, train stations and on city streets, a bomb disposal team carried out a controlled explosion Tuesday on a suspicious car parked outside a mosque in Glasgow.

Strathclyde Police Superintendent Stewart Daniels told the British Broadcasting Corp. there was "absolutely no specific information" of a threat from the vehicle but that it had been detonated as a precaution.

On Saturday, two men rammed a Jeep Cherokee loaded with gas cylinders into the terminal at Glasgow's airport, then set the vehicle on fire. On Friday, two car bombs failed to explode in central London.

Police were also investigating an attack on an Asian news agent early Tuesday in Glasgow, in which a car was rammed into the shop and caught fire or set ablaze, and the torching of a real estate office next to a mosque near Edinburgh on Monday.

Police have yet to establish if either attack was racially motivated, but Osama Saeed, Scottish spokesman for the Muslim Association of Britain, said tension was increasing.

"It suggests there is a rising feeling of hostility where people feel comfortable in the company of others acting in a grotesque fashion," he said.

A British security official said Monday that Pakistan and several other nations were asked to check possible links with the suspects. British-born terrorists behind the bloody 2005 London transit bombings and others in thwarted plots here were linked to terror training camps and foreign radicals in Pakistan.

Authorities said police searched at least 19 locations as part of the "fast-moving investigation," which has come at a time of already high vigilance before the anniversary of the suicide bombings in London that killed 52 people on July 7, 2005.

The British government security official said investigators were working on one theory that the same people may have driven the explosives-laden cars into London and the blazing SUV in Glasgow.

The unidentified driver of the Jeep was being treated for serious burns at Royal Alexandra Hospital in Glasgow, where he was under arrest. Bomb experts carried out a second controlled explosion on a car at the hospital Monday, after a similar blast Sunday. Police said the car was linked to the investigation, but no explosives had been found.

Authorities identified Bilal Abdulla, an Iraqi doctor who worked at the Glasgow hospital, as the other man arrested at the airport. Staff at the Glasgow hospital said Abdulla was a diabetes specialist.

Haneef, 27, was being detained in Australia under counterterrorism laws that allow police to hold a suspect without charge as long as a judge agrees there are grounds to do so, Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty said.

No charges were filed Tuesday, and Keelty stressed it had yet to determine what role — if any — Haneef had in the plots. Officials did not say where he was bound when he was detained.

"The doctor was regarded by the hospital as, in many senses, a model citizen — excellent references and so on," said Queensland Premier Peter Beattie.

A man arrested late Saturday on a highway in central England was also a physician, Mohammed Jamil Abdelqader Asha, police said. A Jordanian official said Asha was of Palestinian descent and carried a Jordanian passport.

Azmi Mahafzah, Asha's instructor at the University of Jordan medical school, said he knew Asha during his studies and training from 1998 to 2004.

"I didn't even have the impression that he was religious," he told The Associated Press. "He interacted with others, both boys and girls. He has no prejudices. He is not a fanatic type of person."

The family of Asha's wife, Marwa, who was with him in the car at the time of their arrest, denied she had links to terrorism.

"Marwa is a very educated person and she read many British novels to know England better, a country she liked so much," her father, Yunis Da'na told The Associated Press in Jordan.

Police in Glasgow said two others arrested Sunday were men aged 25 and 28 and detained at residences at the Royal Alexandra Hospital.

Officers would not confirm if the two men were also doctors, but Britain's Sky Television reported — without citing sources — that they were trainee physicians.