Brown orders doctors probe after bomb plot
British police believe they have arrested the main suspects in an al-Qaeda-style bomb plot, some of whom appeared in intelligence databases on radical Islamists, sources close to the investigation said on Wednesday.
Security experts were considering reducing Britain’s terrorist threat level, four days after it was raised to “critical”—meaning more attacks could be imminent—in the wake of two failed car bombs in London and a botched but fiery attack on a Scottish airport using a fuel-laden jeep.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown ordered a review of recruitment to Britain’s state-run health service after security sources confirmed all of the eight people arrested, including one in Australia, are doctors or have medical links.
Two are Indians and the rest from the Middle East.
“I have asked ... the new terrorism minister to conduct an immediate review as to what arrangements we must make in relation to recruitment to the NHS [National Health Service],” Brown told Parliament on Wednesday.
A security source told Reuters that the MI5 intelligence agency had discovered that fragments of information on some of the suspects were held in its databases on suspected radical Islamists. This had helped the investigation.
While no evidence has emerged that medical expertise was central to the plot, the alleged involvement of doctors has caused disquiet in Britain, where nearly 40% of registered doctors are foreign-trained.
Security analysts said the idea that militant Islamists could be working in hospitals, with potential access to dangerous biological or radiological substances, was alarming, even if no such materials were involved in this case.
“If all of these doctors are involved in this cell, that is very disturbing. That is a new dimension entirely for the security services,” said MJ Gohel of the Asia-Pacific Foundation in London.
The Times newspaper said a British Anglican cleric in Baghdad had received a warning from an al-Qaeda leader in Iraq in April that attacks were planned in Britain and the United States and that “the people who cure you would kill you”—with hindsight, a possible reference to doctors.
Canon Andrew White told the Times he had passed the warning, but not the actual words, to a senior Foreign Office official.
A police source said detectives believed they had now arrested the main potential attackers in a plot that Brown—in office for only one week—has said may be linked to al-Qaeda.
Police said a British counter-terrorism officer was en route to Australia to help detectives there question an Indian doctor detained on Tuesday while about to fly out of the country.
Detectives were continuing to question six people being held in London. A seventh man arrested in Scotland after Saturday’s attack on Glasgow airport remains critically ill in hospital with severe burns.
A security source said it was reassuring that some information on the suspects was already held on MI5 databases and that those arrested were not complete unknowns.
“We were far more anxious that we would not have heard of them. That would have been very worrying—it would have meant our coverage was not necessarily directed in the right places.”
Britain has seen a marked increase in terrorism-related plots since the September 11 2001 strikes on the United States and its decision to join US forces in invading Iraq in 2003.
Four young British Muslims killed 52 people in London suicide bombings in 2005. - Reuters