LONDON - "Those who cure you are going to kill you."
That, a British priest said Wednesday, was the cryptic warning made to him in
Jordan by a purported al-Qaida chief months before the failed car bombings in
London and Glasgow that have been linked to a group of foreign Muslims working
as doctors in Britain.
British authorities have said the
attacks bore the hallmarks of an al-Qaida operation, but security officials say
investigators are still trying to determine whether there was any direct link
between the alleged plotters and an outside mastermind.
Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown speaks in the House of
Commons, London, Wednesday, July 4, 2007, during Prime Minister's
Canon Andrew White, a senior Anglican priest who works in Baghdad, said he
met the man privately with a translator and sheik after holding talks with Sunni
Muslim tribal and religious leaders April 18 in the Jordanian capital, Amman. He
meets regularly with extremists in an attempt to calm Iraq's sectarian violence.
He said religious leaders told him the man was an al-Qaida leader who
traveled from Syria to the meeting. The man, an educated Iraqi in his 40s and
dressed in Western clothes, warned of attacks on Britain and the United States,
"It was like meeting the devil," he told The Associated Press in a telephone
interview from Baghdad. "He talked of destroying Britain and the United States
and then said, 'Those who cure you are going to kill you.'"
White, who runs Baghdad's only Anglican parish and has been involved in
several hostage negotiations in Iraq, said he did not understand the threat's
significance at the time. He said he passed the general threat along to
Britain's Foreign Office, but did not mention the comment that could be
interpreted as hinting at the involvement of doctors in a terror plot.
Then came the news that six physicians were among the eight suspects detained
in the failed attacks in Britain.
"As soon as I heard many of the suspects were doctors I remembered those
words," he said. "I work with a lot of people who are not necessarily good
people. It becomes very difficult to distinguish what threat is real and what is
White said he gave the man's identity to the Foreign Office but would not say
publicly what it was. He also said he gave the same details to American
authorities in Baghdad.
A spokesman for the Foreign Office, who spoke on condition of anonymity in
line with government policy, denied White relayed the man's identify but
confirmed he reported his meeting with the alleged al-Qaida leader.
He also said that White did not pass on the reference alluding to medical
practitioners and that because his information was vague it "didn't really merit
further analysis." But White's report has now been given to British police in
their investigation, the spokesman said.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown, meanwhile, announced that Britain will increase
its scrutiny of foreigners recruited for their skills, including doctors coming
to work for the National Health Service, which employed all eight suspects in
the failed car bombings.
"We'll expand the background checks that have been done where there are
highly skilled migrant workers coming into this country," Brown told the House
of Commons in his first appearance at the weekly prime minister's questions.
The government also lowered its terrorism threat level one step to "severe"
from "critical" - the highest on a five-point scale. Officials said Tuesday that
investigators believe the main plotters had been rounded up, though others on
the periphery were being hunted.
The reduction "does not mean the overall threat has gone away - there remains
a serious and real threat against the United Kingdom and I would again ask that
the public remain vigilant," Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said in a statement.
A U.S.-based intelligence monitoring group said Wednesday that it obtained a
copy of a video intended for posting on militant Internet sites in which
al-Qaida's No. 2 leader urges Muslims to unite in a holy war against the West
but doesn't mention the bombing attempts in Britain.
It was not possible to determine from the transcript released by the group
SITE whether the tape of Ayman al-Zawahri was recorded before the attacks.
Several of the arrested men in the British plot were on a watch list compiled
by the domestic intelligence agency MI5, a British government security official
said, indicating their identities previously had been logged by agents. The
official did not say why they were put on the watch list.
"Some, but not all, have turned up in a check of the databases, but they are
not linked to any previous incident," the security official said, speaking on
condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the material.
The official said Britain's security services are watching about 1,600 people
and have details logged about hundreds more.
The Evening Standard said one suspect on the list had posted a comment on an
Internet chat room condemning Danish cartoons portraying the Prophet Muhammad in
a derogatory way. The newspaper, which cited unidentified intelligence sources
for the information, did not say which suspect.
The Times of London said one of the eight people in custody, Iraqi-born
physician Bilal Abdulla, reportedly had links to radical Islamic groups and
several others were linked to extremist radicals listed on the MI5 database.
Abdulla was a passenger in the Jeep that smashed into Glasgow's airport.
Investigators believe the same men who parked two explosives-laden Mercedes cars
in London may have also driven the blazing SUV in Glasgow, officials say.
Shiraz Maher, a former member of a radical Islamic group, said he knew
Abdulla at Cambridge University.
"He was certainly very angry about what was happening in Iraq. ... He
supported the insurgency in Iraq. He actively cheered the deaths of British and
American troops in Iraq," Maher told BBC television's "Newsnight."
He said Abdulla berated a Muslim roommate for not being devout enough,
showing him a beheading video and warning that could happen to him. Maher said
Abdulla also claimed to have a number of videos of the then-leader of al-Qaida
in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed by a U.S. airstrike last year.
Abdulla had been disciplined by his employers at the Royal Alexandra
Hospital, outside Glasgow, for spending too much time on the Internet, according
to hospital staff, suggesting the plot may have been planned in cyberspace.
Police seized several computers from hospitals in Glasgow, Stoke-on-Kent and
British Broadcasting Corp., citing unidentified sources, said police in
Scotland had identified a house rented by one of the suspects arrested in
Glasgow as a potential bomb factory. Police could not comment on the report.
While information held on the MI5 database did not alert authorities to the
attacks, it did help police to round up suspects quickly, the government
security official said.
The eight suspects include one doctor from Iraq and two from India. Also in
custody are a physician from Lebanon and a Jordanian doctor and his medical
assistant wife. Another doctor and a medical student are thought to be from the
Middle East, possibly Saudi Arabia.
No one has yet been charged in the plot.
The family of one suspect - Muhammad Haneef, a 27-year-old doctor from India
arrested Monday in Australia - professed his innocence. Haneef worked in 2005 at
Halton Hospital near Liverpool in northern England, hospital spokesman Mark
Shone has said.
"He is innocent," Qurat-ul-ain, Haneef's mother, told AP in the southern
Indian city of Bangalore.
Another Indian national arrested in Liverpool was Sabeel Ahmed, a 26-year-old
doctor whose family in Bangalore said Wednesday that he was related to Haneef
but did not say how.
"Both these boys are just caught in between," his mother, Zakia Ahmed, who
also is a doctor, said in front of her home in an upscale neighborhood about 7.5
miles from Haneef's home.