- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 4, 2007

LONDON — Police continued to arrest Muslim doctors working for Britain’s National Health Service yesterday, defying a stereotype of terrorists as disadvantaged misfits from poor families who are brainwashed.

The eight persons held yesterday in the failed car-bomb plot in London and Glasgow included one doctor from Iraq and two from India, a physician from Lebanon and a Jordanian doctor and his medical assistant wife. Another doctor and a medical student are thought to be from Saudi Arabia, the British press reported.

All were employed by Britain’s National Health Service (NHS). Some worked together as colleagues at hospitals in England and Scotland, and analysts and officials said the evidence pointed to the plot being hatched after they met in Britain, rather than overseas.

“To think that these guys were a sleeper cell and somehow were able to plan this operation from the different places they were, and then orchestrate being hired by the NHS so they could get to the [United Kingdom], then get jobs in the same area — I think that’s a planning impossibility,” said Bob Ayres, a former U.S. intelligence officer now at London’s Chatham House think tank.

“A much more likely scenario is they were here together, they discovered that they shared some common ideology, and then they decided to act on this while here in the U.K.,” he said.

No one has been charged in the plot in which two car bombs failed to explode in Central London early Friday and two men rammed a Jeep Cherokee loaded with gas cylinders into the entrance of Glasgow Airport and set it on fire the following day.

Investigators think the main plotters have been rounded up, including one in custody in Australia, though others involved on the periphery, including at least one British-born suspect, were still being hunted, a British government security official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the details.

British-born Muslims behind the bloody 2005 London transit bombings and others in thwarted plots here have been linked to terror training camps and foreign radicals in Pakistan, and the official said Pakistan, India and several other nations were asked to check possible links with the suspects in the latest attacks.

The educational achievements of the suspects in the car-bomb attempts is in sharp contrast to the men that carried out the deadly July 7 transit bombings two years ago.

The ringleader of that attack, Mohammed Siddique Khan, had a degree in business studies, but with low marks, and his three fellow suicide bombers had little or no higher education.

In the current case, Muhammad Haneef, a 27-year-old doctor from India arrested late Monday in Brisbane, Australia, worked in 2005 at Halton Hospital near Liverpool in northern England, hospital spokesman Mark Shone said.

Another Indian doctor, 26, arrested late Saturday in Liverpool, worked at the same hospital, Mr. Shone confirmed, but refused to divulge his name.

A third suspect, Mohammed Jamil Asha, a 26-year-old doctor from Jordan of Palestinian heritage, was arrested Saturday with his wife, Marwa Asha, 27, who was identified in British press reports as a medical assistant. He worked at North Staffordshire Hospital, near the Midlands town of Newcastle-under-Lyme.

A doctor at Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley, near Glasgow, who refused to give his name, said he recognized Dr. Asha as a doctor who kept an office there — the same hospital where another suspect, Bilal Talal Abdul Samad Abdulla, worked.

According to friends of Dr. Abdulla’s family in Iraq, the 27-year-old doctor came to Britain after graduating from medical school in Baghdad. He was a passenger in the Jeep Cherokee that rammed into the Glasgow Airport.

The Jeep’s driver — identified by staff at Royal Alexandra Hospital as a Lebanese doctor named Khalid Ahmed — was in critical condition at that hospital from burns suffered in the attack. Police would not confirm his identity.

Investigators think the same men who parked the explosives-laden cars in London may have also driven the blazing SUV in Glasgow, the British security official said.

The final two suspects, ages 25 and 28, were arrested by police Sunday at Royal Alexandra Hospital.

Staff said one was a medical student and the other a junior doctor, without giving their names. The British press said they were from Saudi Arabia, but police refused to comment.

Dr. Shiv Pande, former chairman of the British International Doctors Association, said the two Indian nationals in custody were Muslims.

“It is very upsetting news,” Dr. Pande said of their suspected involvement. “It is an abuse of trust and respect — everyone should be able to love their doctor.”

Dr. Azmi Mahafzah, a teacher at the University of Jordan’s medical school, said he knew Dr. Asha during his studies and training there from 1998 to 2004. He said he didn’t think Dr. Asha was religious. “He is not a fanatic type of person,” Dr. Mahafzah said.

Dr. Asha’s family also denied he was a militant or had links to terrorism, as did the family of Dr. Asha’s wife, Marwa.

“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.

British authorities have refused to release many details on the suspects, including whether they were on any watch lists, but have indicated they think the plot may have links to al Qaeda.

A senior U.S. counterterrorism official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said yesterday that none of the eight suspects was on any American lists that identify potential terror suspects.

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