LONDON — Police on Monday announced another arrest in last weekend's foiled triple car bombing attempts in London and Glasgow, Scotland, bringing the number of people arrested to eight, five of whom may be medical personnel, according to British media reports.
The latest arrest, apparently in Brisbane, Australia, came as police exploded two suspect vehicles at a hospital in Paisley, outside Glasgow, where one suspect is reported to have been employed and another is being treated for injuries from one of the failed attacks. Two other suspects were arrested at the same location Sunday.
Police identified one of the men in the flaming Jeep Cherokee that rammed into the check-in entrance at Glasgow Airport on Saturday as Bilal Abdulla, an Iraqi with medical training from Baghdad University who arrived in the United Kingdom last August. He had been working at the Royal Alexandria Hospital, about six miles from the airport.
And a man arrested Saturday night on the M6 highway in Cheshire in northwest England is reportedly Mohammed Asha, a Palestinian from Jordan. Asha, a neurologist working at a North Staffordshire hospital, had recently renewed his registration to work here through spring 2008.
In that arrest, three unmarked police cars blocked the road in front of the suspect, and more than a dozen unmarked police cars closed in from behind and sealed off the area from other motorists.
Two other men were arrested in hospital residences.
British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, who is in charge of police, told the House of Commons on Monday that police had searched 19 locations across England and Scotland looking for clues to the failed attacks. British commuters saw a heavy police presence on the streets, in the subway system and at train stations and airports.
The latest arrests revealed a new side to terror in Europe, for those detained were apparently highly educated foreign-trained medical personnel, all of whom could easily obtain visas due to the shortage of doctors in Britain and other countries. They appeared to be a very different breed from the self-taught terrorists who were charged with attacks in Britain during the previous two summers.
European terror experts said the information available so far indicates that the three assaults, which were intended to kill hundreds, may be the work of a terror cell that arrived in London during the last couple years.
"This is still too early to know anything, but right now it looks as if we may have a terror cell that arrived with the intent to carry out an attack and waited just over a year to become active," said Dick Leurdijk, a terrorism expert at the Dutch Clingendael Institute. "This does not look homegrown or self-radicalized."
Since the July 7, 2005, attacks on London's subway and bus system, the working assumption of most police forces has been that al Qaida inspires but doesn't dictate terror attacks around Europe.
Gordon Brown, Britain's new Labor prime minister, said Sunday that those responsible for the most recent plots were "people who are associated with al Qaida."
But in Washington, several U.S. counterterrorism officials said questions remained about how deeply — if at all — al Qaida might have been involved.
The officials requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
"Is there any evidence pointing to links with al Qaida senior leadership? Not at this point," said one of the officials. "The nature and extent of the links is a matter that is being pursued."
The U.S. counterterrorism officials said that al Qaida remains determined to commit major attacks in Europe and the United States, and that the alleged plotters could have been inspired by the terrorist group or other militant organizations motivated by Osama bin Laden's violent Islamic ideology.
But the attempted car bombings in London and the ramming of the flame-engulfed Jeep Cherokee into the doors of Glasgow airport lacked some hallmarks of past al Qaida operations, they said, including professionalism in execution, and they wouldn't have caused mass casualties.
But Paul Wilkinson, chairman of St. Andrew's University Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence, said the fact that doctors were involved pointed to al Qaida. That doctors may have carried out the assaults "was "not only not surprising, it's highly likely that an organization as large as al Qaida would count medically qualified people among its ranks," he said. "They would be heavily recruited and highly valued."
(Jonathan S. Landay contributed.)