GLASGOW/LONDON (Reuters) – Police were questioning eight people on Tuesday — at least three of whom are doctors — in connection with a suspected al Qaeda plot to detonate car bombs in London and Scotland.
Australian police detained an Indian doctor, widening the international investigation and bringing to eight the number of people held over a plan to detonate two car bombs in London and attack Scotland’s Glasgow airport using a fuel-laden vehicle.
The detention of the hospital registrar as he tried to leave Australia via Brisbane means at least three of those being questioned are doctors who are thought to have trained overseas and worked in Britain.
The BBC and other media reported that as many as three more of those detained were medical students or had connections hospitals in Britain, but police could not confirm this.
In an investigation described as “fast-moving”, police carried out a controlled explosion on a car at a mosque in Glasgow early on Tuesday. They said the car was linked to the bomb plot investigation, but stressed it had not contained explosives and had been destroyed as a precaution.
“The vehicle will be removed for detailed forensic examination,” a police spokeswoman said.
Fearing further attacks, police have banned cars and other vehicles from directly approaching airports, and security measures have been stepped up across the country. Authorities say the threat level is “critical”, the highest rating.
The series of foiled and actual attacks poses a stern test for Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a Scot who replaced Tony Blair only last week and who has come under pressure from some quarters to change policy on Iraq and withdraw British troops.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard said the 27-year-old Indian national seized in Brisbane had not been arrested and no charges had been made against him. Local officials said the man, who was in Australia on a temporary visa for professionals, had “some connections to the incidents in the UK”.
British police said it was too early to say whether any of their officers would go to Australia to question him, or whether moves would be made to bring him to London.
The Gold Coast Hospital registrar had been recruited from Liverpool in 2006 through an advertisement in the British Medical Journal. Another employee of the hospital was being questioned, although he had not been linked to the plot.
One of the seven held in Britain was detained in Liverpool.
Of the other doctors held over the plot, British police sources named one as Bilal Abdulla, who qualified in Iraq in 2004, and another as Mohammed Asha, who qualified in Jordan the same year. Asha’s wife was also arrested.
According to the Muslim News, a Web site that follows the British Muslim community, another of those seized in Britain was also a doctor. It quoted a colleague of the man as saying he had come to Britain from Bangalore in India.
Britain has seen a marked increase in terrorism-related attacks since the September 11 strikes on the United States and its decision to join U.S. forces in invading Iraq in 2003.
But previous attacks, including one on London’s transport system in July 2005 which killed 52 people, have tended to involve radicalised, British-born Muslims, not educated attackers from overseas, security experts say.
Police cordoned off streets around the Forth Street mosque in the Pollokshields area of Glasgow — a largely Asian neighbourhood — in the early hours of Tuesday, before carrying out controlled explosions on the suspect car.
Other controlled explosions were carried out on Monday at a hospital in Paisley, near Glasgow, where Abdulla worked.
In Amman, Jordan, the father of Mohammed Asha described his son as a good Muslim, not a fanatic, and expressed incredulity that he could be involved in an al Qaeda-style bomb plot.
“I am sure Mohammed does not have any links of this nature because his history in Jordan and since he was a kid does not include any kind of activity of this nature,” he said.