LONDON — Two doctors who slammed a burning Jeep Cherokee filled with gas canisters into the check-in area of Glasgow airport on Saturday had driven an explosives-laden Mercedes into London earlier, British police officials said Tuesday.
Police identified the two as Bilal Abdullah, who received his medical training in Iraq, and Khalid Ahmed, whose nationality wasn't known. They are among eight suspects in custody in connection with the failed triple car-bombing plot in London and Scotland. All of the suspects are doctors, doctors in training or medical personnel, according to British media reports. Seven of the suspects worked for Britain's National Health Service.
Ahmed, who's now in the Royal Alexandria Hospital near Glasgow with burns on over 90 percent of his body, was arrested after pouring gasoline on himself and lighting himself on fire at Glasgow airport.
The investigation stretched around the globe with the detention Tuesday of Mohammed Haneef, 27, at the Brisbane, Australia, airport as he was preparing to board a flight to India on a one-way ticket.
British police indicated that they've uncovered the major elements of the failed plot. It apparently involved almost entirely foreign-born medical personnel — a key difference from the assault on Britain's subway and bus system two years ago and a plot to blow up transatlantic aircraft last summer. In the earlier plots, the assailants were described as home-grown, radicalized Muslims, mostly from South Asia.
The fact that foreign-born professionals have been detained as prime suspects, several of whom haven't been in Britain long, raised the possibility that they may have been sent to Britain or were directed from abroad.
A U.S. official familiar with the intelligence accumulating on the failed attacks said there were "glimmers and indications" of possible links between the suspects and the terrorist group al Qaida in Iraq. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, declined to elaborate.
Police said they were already searching for Abdullah and Ahmed when the Glasgow assault occurred. They began by checking out numbers stored on cell phones that the men allegedly left in two Mercedes that were intended to trigger the car bombs.
Ten minutes before the Glasgow attack, police were talking with the landlord where Abdullah and Ahmed lived, as well as with people at a taxi service they were known to have used.
Others arrested in connection with the plot included Abeel Ahmed, a 26-year-old doctor from India who was arrested in Liverpool, and two unnamed "junior doctors," ages 25 and 28, from Saudi Arabia, according to British press reports. The two were arrested Sunday at the Royal Alexandria Hospital staff residences.
Suspect Mohammed Asha, 26, and his wife, Marwah, 27, a lab technician, were detained Saturday night while driving on the M-6 highway in Cheshire, in northwest England. The British media have called Asha, a neurologist, the mastermind of the plot.
Abdullah Asha, Mohammed's 18-year-old brother, said Tuesday that the notion that his brother was involved in a bomb plot against Britain was absurd.
"My brother never cared about politics," he said from Jordan. "My brother never watched TV. My brother loved England, loved the English people. My brother is being unfairly treated."
Asha was considered a genius in Jordan, having attended the elite Jubilee School in Amman, and he finished third in the nation in science testing. The Jordanian Ministry of Education awarded him a full scholarship to study medicine at the University of Jordan.
After he graduated with his medical degree, he was accepted as a neurology student in England and took a job at the North Staffordshire Hospital to pay the bills. His brother noted that even if he had tended toward extremism (which he insisted he didn't), with studies and a doctor's schedule, Mohammed Asha had no time for bomb plots.
"He is religious," his brother said. "He prays and fasts, like all Muslims. He is not extreme in any way. He was never interested in politics."
The family these days is showing off photos of him with Jordanian Queen Noor, in addition to photos of him with his wife and now 18-month-old son.
Earlier Tuesday in London, Muhammed Abdul Bari, general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, strongly condemned the plot in a news conference, but acknowledged that there was a problem with radicalism in the British Muslim community. He said that almost all British Muslims are good people, but that the Muslim community had to work to stop a small minority from turning to radical and violent ideology.
"People who seek to maim and kill innocent people are the enemies of everyone, Muslim and non-Muslim," he said.
(Nissenbaum reported from Jerusalem. Jonathan S. Landay contributed from Washington.)