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British Terror Investigation Results in Australian Raids

July 6, 2007 at 6:10 PM EDT
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New twists and turns in the British bomb plot story.

We get our update from Mary Jordan of The Washington Post in London.

Margaret Warner talked with her earlier this evening.

MARGARET WARNER: Mary Jordan, thanks for joining us.

The British prime minister, Gordon Brown, said today that he — “We believe we’re getting to the bottom of this cell that has been responsible for what’s going on.”

How confident are British authorities now that the eight arrested so far were part of a definite terror cell?

MARY JORDAN, The Washington Post: Well, there is a lot of unusual things about this case, not just that the people arrested were doctors, and that they used cars like Mercedes, but that they have so much evidence.

Because the bombs failed to go off, they not only have the fingerprints on the cars, but they have the mobile phones that were to be the detonators. Looking through the mobile phones, they have all kinds of phone numbers that have helped lead to some of these arrests.

And, then, of course, they have been tracked back to the houses, where there have been scores of police combing all the houses of these people, and leading back to Australia. So, they are super-confident. I mean, when you can — you can tell, when you are in Scotland Yard, that these people feel like they have a case.

MARGARET WARNER: So, when the crown prosecutor recommended late today that this Dr. Abdulla, who was in the car, be now actually formally charged, not just with the Glasgow incident, but also the — the attempted bombings in London, they have got rock-solid evidence that he was involved in both?

MARY JORDAN: Well, we’ll certainly see a trial. But what they have here that other cities wouldn’t have is an enormous amount of closed-circuit television. So, they can see. They have the images of the people coming out of the Mercedes in London. And they also have, on the major motorways, a vehicle registration system.

They have cameras that basically take a picture of every license plate going up and down the major highways. And then they put it into a computer, and they have found these guys. They can track them by face and by car all over England.

Pursuit in Australia

MARGARET WARNER: So, can you confirm what others have reported, that the police now think that the same two in the car at the airport were, in fact, the two who tried to plant the bombs in London?

MARY JORDAN: Well, that's -- of course, the police haven't flat out come out and say that.

But, yes, that is what we are hearing from security sources here. And that is why they are so confident that they are not looking for somebody else. They think the two people that were in the Mercedes in London left outside those nightclubs to kill hundreds of people were then the same people up in Glasgow trying to kill more people in an airport terminal.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, what are they pursuing in Australia, other than the fact that the one doctor detained there is reported to be a cousin of one of the suspects detained in Britain?

MARY JORDAN: Well, I think what they are trying to figure out now is, did all of these people, some from India, some from Jordan, some from Iraq, did they come into Britain in the last few years with the idea that they were going to plot this? Or did this come from within?

Several of these people, interestingly enough, two years ago were in Cambridge, England. You know, the city is known one of -- renowned university, great center of higher education. Well, it turns out at least three, and maybe more, were in that town, one in a mosque, one in a hospital, one apparently at the university.

But did they plot within to kill people in this country? And I think, now, that they are fanning out. They're looking in India and Australia and some other countries, trying to figure out the origins and why, the motivation about why these people wanted to do it.

Suspect had family in Iraq

MARGARET WARNER: Now, what's come out or what have they discovered up until now about these suspects and previous terror links?

MARY JORDAN: Well, I think one of the most interesting things that's coming out is actually about Mr. Abdulla. What we are hearing is that he was extremely upset about what happened to his family's property in Iraq.

He is from Iraq. And, when the 2003 invasion happened, his family lost a lot of property. They had to move out of the country for security. And, even though he was a doctor, when I was up in Scotland at the hospital where he worked, his colleagues would say things like, he wasn't really interested in medicine.

He spent a lot of time on the Internet, looking at news from Iraq, always on Arabic and religious Web sites. His heart wasn't in medicine, they said. Now, this is the man that was just arrested.

MARGARET WARNER: And, then, in pursuing this possible connection, even with al-Qaida, how much weight are they putting on the comment of the British cleric, I guess, who said he talked to a suspected al-Qaida leader in Jordan who made that threat about, those who cure you will kill you?

MARY JORDAN: That was just such a chilling comment.

Well, both the prime minister and some security sources here say that it is at least al-Qaida inspired. It is unclear exactly what kind of directives from outside the country. I mean, were these people funded? Is that why they had such good jobs, beautiful houses, by the way? I mean, some of these places the police were searching that these doctors lived in were really nice.

The one in Scotland, for instance, it's a gorgeous suburban area. The most exciting thing that normally happens there is a line at the local fish 'n' chip shop.

MARY JORDAN: I mean, it's the perfect place to be anonymous -- a lot of very unusual things, including the money involved in this case. And people are now trying to track that back to its source.

Scrutiny of foreign doctors

MARGARET WARNER: I know that Gordon Brown has ordered that scrutiny be stepped up of doctors who are recruited from overseas.

But what have you been able to learn about whether, up until now, recruits for the National Health Service, highly trained professionals, were subjected to scrutiny in terms of possible terror connections?

MARY JORDAN: Well, certainly, it was something that people weren't thinking about, maybe as much as they should.

What you needed, basically, to be a foreign doctor, to come in here, because there is a great need in this country, is, you had to have a diploma from a good accredited university abroad. And you had to have a skilled-worker visa. That skilled-worker visa was obviously easier to get than unskilled.

So, recently, actually, only one year ago, another step was added. You needed a work permit. That meant that the hospital had to say: We want you, Mr. Abdulla. We don't have anybody in that specialty. We have looked at your record. We think you would be good.

That's an important step that was added last year, a little bit more scrutiny. That meant that the hospital that was receiving this person had information. All of the people in this case came in before that last layer came on.

And, so, now Gordon Brown, the new prime minister, is saying, in addition to that, we're going to look at this process and we're going to have more scrutiny on doctors coming in the country.

MARGARET WARNER: And were they measured against known terror databases?

MARY JORDAN: Well, they were supposed to have been measured against all criminal databases, which would certainly include terror, because this country -- you know, tomorrow is the second anniversary of the horrible terror attacks on the subway and the bus here that left 52 innocent people dead.

So, this country is on high alert. And I think what has happened now is that some of these doctors, they had stellar records. They had no criminal background. People are really worried. It is not easy to know who is so angry, that they are willing to even blow themselves up and kill other people, even though they have taken an oath to be a doctor and heal people.

U.S. watching closely

MARGARET WARNER: And, Mary, what can you add to the reports we have had today that the FBI's confirming that two of the suspects did, in fact, inquire about doctors jobs here in the States?

MARY JORDAN: Well, I think it's why people in the U.S. are so nervous and watching what is going on in Britain so closely, because not only is it easy for foreign doctors to move within countries, but there has been enormous amount of chatter on the Internet, saying things like, it will be Britain first, America second.

After all, many of the people are saying that the reason for these attacks was the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, and that Britain was its closest ally.

MARGARET WARNER: Mary Jordan of The Washington Post, thank you.

MARY JORDAN: Great to talk to you.