HOLIDAY SECURITY TIGHTENED

The Baltimore Sun

LONDON -- At least seven of the suspects in the failed car bombings in London and Glasgow, Scotland, were foreign doctors or medical personnel working for the National Health Service, but officials have not determined whether a foreign terrorist group sent them to Britain or they were recruited here.

Most of those arrested or held for questioning were known "in some form" to the intelligence community and were tracked down through the cell phones found in the London car bombs, a security expert close to the government said. Investigators have not determined who led the ring.

The suspects were not "clean," said Anthony Glees, director of Brunel University's Center for Intelligence and Security Studies in London. Yet, he added, "there is no sense of what the center of gravity of the plot was."

A British security official noted that the investigation is in the early stages and that some of the suspects had not yet been questioned.

"It is much too early for anyone to decide how they got together," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Police officials and sources have confirmed the arrests of foreign nationals from Iraq, Jordan and India in connection with the car bombs discovered in London early Friday and the fiery automobile attack on Glasgow's international airport on Saturday. Two other detainees reportedly are medical students from Saudi Arabia.

The suspects, apparently all in their mid- to late 20s, include:

Bilal Abdullah, an Iraqi doctor who worked at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley, Scotland. He has been identified as a passenger in the Jeep Cherokee that plowed into the main terminal of Glasgow Airport and burst into flames. He was detained at the airport at the time of the attack.

Khalid Ahmed, reported to be the driver of the Jeep, who was critically burned in the fire. He is believed to be a doctor who worked and roomed with Abdullah in Paisley. His nationality is unknown, and he remains in police custody at the Royal Alexandra Hospital.

Mohammed Jameel Asha, a Palestinian-Jordanian neurosurgeon, who was arrested along with his wife Saturday night on a highway in northern England. He worked at the North Staffordshire Hospital in Stoke-on-Trent.

Mohammed Haneef, an Indian doctor who worked at Halton Hospital in Cheshire, south of Liverpool, in 2005. He was detained in Brisbane, Australia, as he was about to board a flight with a one-way ticket.

A man identified as Sabeel Ahmed, a postgraduate medical trainee from India, reportedly worked with Haneef in Cheshire and was detained Saturday night in Liverpool.

Two unidentified medical students, who lived in a medical residence of the Royal Alexandra Hospital, are believed to be from Saudi Arabia.

Police traced the suspects through mobile telephones left in the London car bombs, apparently as detonators.

"The phones delivered the numbers, the numbers delivered the names, and the names tied in with information on security service databases," Glees said.

None of the suspects was under direct surveillance, however, and police had no specific warnings about a plot involving them.

Counterterrorism experts said the suspects might not have been sent to Britain to infiltrate the medical system, but that the system may have provided a relatively easy way into the country.

There are 27,558 doctors from India, 1,985 from Iraq and 184 from Jordan registered in Britain.

One or more of the suspects might have been in touch with extremist networks before arriving, while others may have been radicalized only after establishing themselves in Britain, security analysts said.

Asha's family in Jordan described him as a religious and political moderate, and said he grew a beard, a symbol of religious devotion among Muslims, only after moving to England in 2005.

Experts noted that the would-be bombers did not use their medical skills or access to medical supplies in either of the attacks, suggesting that the medical system might have served only as a means to network.

"They didn't use the access that doctors would have to radioactive materials," Glees said. British intelligence has "long been primed to worry about a radioactive bomb."

Two men were arrested yesterday in Blackburn on suspicion of terrorism, but police said it was too early to say whether the arrests were linked to the failed London plot and the Glasgow attack. They said a Volvo sedan removed from the area might be connected to the investigation.

Police carried out a controlled explosion of a car parked at a mosque in Glasgow. The car was not found to contain explosives.

Security was tight at Britain's airports, train stations and commercial areas. A terminal at London's Heathrow Airport was closed for several hours after a suspicious package was reported; authorities ultimately determined that it posed no danger.

At least 19 houses have been searched nationwide since the car bombs were discovered in London.

Some British investigators believe the group behind the bombs had a link to extremist networks in the Iraq region, according to a European anti-terrorism official in touch with British counterparts. The British investigators suspect that at least some of the doctors received direction and possibly training from a network such as the al-Qaida groups operating in Iraq, Syria and neighboring countries, the anti-terrorism official said.

"Scotland Yard thinks they got orders from Iraq," said the European anti-terrorism official, who asked to remain anonymous. "I think they were recruited and manipulated by people in the Iraq region. But it's too early to say."

Marjorie Miller writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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