Suspects in plot looked at U.S. jobs

Saturday, July 7, 2007

LONDON -- The FBI said Friday that two suspects in the failed car bombings in Britain had made inquiries about working in the United States, and an Iraqi doctor arrested at the attack on Glasgow airport became the first person charged in the terror plot.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown warned Britons to expect increased security measures to guard against more attacks, but he expressed confidence investigators were unraveling the group behind the bombing attempts in London and Glasgow.

"From what I know, we are getting to the bottom of this cell that has been responsible for what is happening," Brown told British Broadcasting Corp.

Police were being stretched to the limit over the weekend with the Wimbledon tennis tournament, the Tour de France in London and a Live Earth concert starring Madonna. Several ceremonies also were planned Saturday to mark the second anniversary of suicide bombings that killed 52 people and wounded more than 700 in London on July 7, 2005.

"We have got to avoid the possibility -- and it is very, very difficult -- that people can use crowded places for explosions," Brown said.

On June 29, police defused two car bombs left to blow up near packed nightclubs and pubs in central London. The following day, two men rammed a Jeep loaded with gasoline canisters into the main terminal at Glasgow's airport, failing to set off an explosion but seriously burning one of suspects.

In all, eight people are now in custody -- all thought to be Muslim foreigners who worked for Britain's National Health Service. Seven are being held in Britain and one in Australia.

An FBI spokeswoman said Friday that two of the suspects -- Mohammed Asha, 26, and another man whose name she didn't give -- contacted the Philadelphia-based Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates, confirming a story first reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Asha, a Jordanian physician of Palestinian heritage, contacted the agency within the last year, but apparently did not take the test for foreign medical school graduates, said the spokeswoman, Nancy O'Dowd.

"He was applying. We don't believe he took the test," she said.

Stephen Seeling, the commission's vice president of operations, said FBI agents visited the office in West Philadelphia this week, but said he could not discuss details about what they were looking for because of privacy rules.

The nonprofit commission verifies the credentials of foreign medical school graduates, evaluates individuals' medical knowledge and administers exams. It represents just one step in a process foreigners must go through to obtain training as a medical resident in the U.S.

"We're a vetting organization that reviews applicants at the early stages," Seeling said.

There is no guarantee an applicant certified by the commission will ever practice medicine in the U.S. Seeling noted decisions about whether to issue visas to foreign doctors lies with federal immigration officials.

In London, meanwhile, Iraqi-born doctor Bilal Abdullah, 27, was charged Friday with conspiring to cause explosions, a police spokeswoman said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with police force policy.

Abdullah was arrested at Glasgow Airport, where he allegedly was a passenger in the Jeep Cherokee that crashed into the terminal entrance.

The police statement came shortly after prosecutors said they had authorized the charge.

"I have now made the decision that there is sufficient evidence and authorized the charging of Bilal Abdullah with conspiracy to cause explosions," said Susan Hemming, an anti-terrorism prosecutor.

Prosecutors said Abdullah would appear at City of Westminster Magistrates' Court on Saturday.

Police Sgt. Torquil Campbell, who apprehended Abdullah and the Jeep's driver, at the airport, said: "It was as if they were waiting there to get blown up."

Abdullah has been described as an intensely militant Muslim at the University of Cambridge. His status at the university is unclear but records show he graduated in Baghdad in 2004.

As police investigators work to determine what brought the eight suspects together, British intelligence agencies are looking for possible international links, said an intelligence official and another government official. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

"We've known for quite some time of al-Qaida's growth in Iraq," the government official told The Associated Press. "Iraq is an obvious place to look for connections, but it's not the only country link we're investigating."

MI5, Britain's domestic intelligence agency, said on its Web site that some Britons had joined the insurgency in Iraq. "In the longer term, it is possible that they may later return to the UK and consider mounting attacks here," it said.

Al-Qaida in Iraq is believed to have become better organized since Abu Ayyub al-Masri, an Egyptian, became its leader after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian killed by a U.S. airstrike a year ago. Iraqi officials say the terror group also is delegating more authority to sympathetic cells in other countries.

In Australia, police seized computers from two hospitals Friday as they explored connections between the British plotters and suspect Muhammad Haneef, an Indian doctor arrested there late Monday as he tried to leave that country.

"There are a number of people now being interviewed as part of this investigation. It doesn't mean that they're all suspects, but it is quite a complex investigation and the links to the U.K. are becoming more concrete," said Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty.

Muslim groups in Britain placed advertisements in national newspapers Friday praising the emergency services and declaring that Islamic terror attacks were "not in our name," borrowing a slogan from the protests in Britain against participation in the invasion of Iraq.

The ads also quoted the Quran: "Whoever kills an innocent soul, it is as if he killed the whole of mankind. And whoever saves one, it is as if he saved the whole of mankind."

Associated Press writers Maryclaire Dale in Philadelphia and Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, contributed to this report.

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