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British Bombing Probe Focuses on Foreign Doctors

July 3, 2007 at 6:20 PM EST
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GWEN IFILL: The rapidly developing British bomb plot story. We get an update from Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post. Ray Suarez talked with him earlier this evening.

RAY SUAREZ: Craig Whitlock, welcome. Has anyone yet been charged with a specific crime?

CRAIG WHITLOCK, The Washington Post: No, no one has been charged with a specific crime yet. In Britain, there are very liberal laws for holding suspects under the terrorism laws passed in the year 2000, which enabled the police to keep people detained for several days if necessary before an actual charge is filed. So as of this point, no one has been charged with a formal crime.

RAY SUAREZ: So even the passenger and the driver that attempted to blow up the Glasgow terminal who were nabbed practically in front of the burning car have not been charged with a specific crime?

CRAIG WHITLOCK: That’s right. I’m sure that they have evidence certainly of that of these people who drove in the terminal. But, again, under British law, they have some time before they prepare formal charges. And I think they will take their time before they do that.

I think the authorities here are keeping the inner workings of their investigation pretty close to the vest. And until they’re forced to by British law, I think they’ll wait on formal charges. There’s no reason for them to do so at this point.

RAY SUAREZ: What can you tell us about the latest arrestees, both in Britain and now Australia?

CRAIG WHITLOCK: Well, that’s right. And the cell in Australia was a native of India. And apparently, he trained at the same hospital in India. He received his medical degree in India from the same university as another suspect who’s been arrested in Liverpool over the weekend. And that’s the first indication we have that there’s a possibility that two of them may have had their paths cross before they came to the United Kingdom.

This is something investigators, again, are very much interested in getting to the bottom of is, how did these doctors meet each other? Did they just meet each other here in the United Kingdom? Were there any connections outside the country? How did they get to know each other?

And we’re still a long way from figuring that out. But just the idea that they attended the same medical school in India certainly raises the possibility that at least two of them had known each other before they came to Britain.

RAY SUAREZ: Has a chronology been nailed down so that the authorities have an idea of when these men entered the country?

CRAIG WHITLOCK: We don’t know that in each case. We do know, in a couple of the doctors’ cases, that they came — one fellow from Jordan, a man of Palestinian origin, Dr. Asha, had come to the United Kingdom in about 2004. Another Iraqi doctor, who was one of the fellows injured in the Glasgow bombing, the car ramming into the Glasgow airport, he came here apparently sometime in 2006.

It appears that most all the suspects are people in their mid- to late-20s. And it appears that several of them have come here in the past three or four years or so; that seems to be the pattern so far.

RAY SUAREZ: Has the connection to the National Health Service brought some shock or surprise domestically in Britain?

CRAIG WHITLOCK: Well, I think domestically, yes. This has shocked people very much, that doctors were arrested, and not only doctors, but doctors with the national health system, who came here to treat British citizens. Now, at the same time, a very large percentage of doctors in the national health system are foreign-trained or foreign-born, so that in and of itself is not unusual, but the idea that doctors brought here for either the government or who work for the government could be charged or, excuse me, arrested on suspicion of something like this is very shocking.

And at the same time, talking to terrorism analysts, they say people shouldn’t be shocked by this at all, that really profiling terror suspects is an exercise that is not very worthwhile, that, in fact, al-Qaida and other affiliates often recruit people who are highly educated or have skills like engineers or doctors. So they say that maybe people are shocked, but they shouldn’t be.

RAY SUAREZ: In the July 7th attacks, when that set of attacks was investigated, they found a large number of native-born or at least British-raised men involved. This latest series of attacks appears to involve people who came from outside the country. Has there been some unease in Britain over now having no profile to work with, that these attacks could come from anybody?

CRAIG WHITLOCK: Well, I think that is dawning on people here. We hear that from security officials and analysts, that they say, in fact, there is no reliable profile of people who might be involved in this kind of activity, that it can be people from any ethnic group, any socioeconomic background, educational training, you know, even people who until recently weren’t even Muslims, people who had converted in the last few years.

So they say it’s almost impossible to predict who might get involved in these kinds of groups or activities based on backgrounds such as that. And I think people here had hoped that there was a way to reassure themselves that certain kinds of people were more likely to get involved, but that’s very much turning out not to be the case.

RAY SUAREZ: There’s been another controlled detonation engineered by the police. What can you tell us about it?

CRAIG WHITLOCK: We don’t know much. Apparently, the police are taking things very cautiously. Any time they come across something that conceivably could be an explosive material, they are taking every precaution.

Now, sometimes in a lot of these homemade explosives, it’s unclear what is actually something that could amount to a bomb and something which is just household material, so I think the police are being very cautious. There’s no indication that this latest explosion was the remnants of another car bomb or something they thought was about to go off, but I think they’re being very cautious.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, are the investigators still working on the assumption that there may be other devices out there that just haven’t been triggered?

CRAIG WHITLOCK: I think there’s that possibility, and they’re being very careful about it. But I think, as every day goes by, each hour, I think the possibility of them finding another car bomb or, you know, another operation about to take place, I think the odds of that goes down considerably.

They’ve been on to this for several days now. And while the officials haven’t lowered the critical threat level, I think they feel that they’re much more on top of it, obviously, than they were three, four or five days ago.

RAY SUAREZ: Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post, thanks for being with us.

CRAIG WHITLOCK: You’re welcome.