Video: U.S. connection discovered in U.K. terror plot

NBC News and news services
updated 7/6/2007 7:50:33 PM ET 2007-07-06T23:50:33

Two suspects in the failed car bombings in Britain made inquiries about working in the United States, the FBI said Friday.

Later Friday, an Iraqi doctor who used to berate others at the University of Cambridge for not being devout enough Muslims became the first to be charged in connection with the failed car bombings in London and Glasgow.

Bilal Abdullah, arrested at Glasgow airport after the Jeep Cherokee he was riding in rammed into a terminal building, was charged Friday with conspiring to cause explosions, Scotland Yard said. Seven other suspects remain in custody, including the alleged driver of the Jeep, who was hospitalized with severe burns.

“Other individuals arrested by the police in connection with the bomb attacks remain in custody pending a charging decision,” said prosecutor Susan Hemming.

Federal law-enforcement officials told NBC News that two other suspects — Dr. Mohammad Asha, the Jordanian arrested on a highway near Cheshire, England, and Dr. Mohammed Haneef, the Indian doctor who was arrested in Brisbane, Australia — began applying to the Philadelphia-based Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates last summer.

Haneef completed part of an online application but never paid his $50 entry fee before dropping the effort. Asha also applied in 2006 to the same group, paid the $50 fee and then also apparently abandoned his plans.

NBC News has learned the FBI conducted interviews earlier this week at the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates and examined documents. The FBI is now investigating whether the men intended to enter the U.S. simply to work here as legitimate doctors or had planned something more sinister.

Intensely militant Muslim?
On June 29, authorities defused two car bombs that had been set to explode near packed nightclubs and pubs in central London. The following day, two people rammed a Jeep Cherokee loaded with gasoline canisters into the main terminal at Glasgow’s airport. The car, loaded with crude bombs, crashed and caught fire, seriously burning one of the suspects.

“It was as if they were waiting there to get blown up,” said police Sgt. Torquil Campbell, who apprehended Abdullah and the Jeep’s alleged driver, Khalid Ahmed, in the packed airport terminal hall.

The Iraqi-born doctor was known by others 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.

All eight suspects were foreigners working for Britain’s National Health Service, six from countries in the Middle East and two from India, and investigators are pressing to find what brought them together.

Image: Mohammed Jamil Asha
Family handout via AP file
Mohammed Jamil Asha
“From what I know, we are getting to the bottom of this cell that has been responsible for what is happening,” Prime Minister Gordon Brown told the British Broadcasting Corp.

'Very, very difficult'
Asha was arrested on the M6 highway Saturday night along with his wife. In Jordan, security officials said Asha had no criminal record, and friends and family said they found it hard to believe either he or his wife was connected with terrorism.

Brown said Britons could expect intensified security checks in the weeks ahead.

“Crowded places and airports, I think people will have to accept that the security will be more intense,” Brown said. “We have got to avoid the possibility — and it is very, very difficult — that people can use these crowded places for explosions.”

A host of major public events are under way now or about to begin, including the Wimbledon tennis tournament, the Tour de France in London, and a Live Earth concert.

The country also is planning several ceremonies on Saturday to mark the second anniversary of London suicide bombings that killed 52 people and wounded more than 700 on July 7, 2005.

Connection in Iraq probed
Britain’s intelligence agencies are focusing on the suspects’ international links, one British intelligence official and another government official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the press.

“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 Iraqi insurgency.

“In the longer term, it is possible that they may later return to the U.K. and consider mounting attacks here,” the Web site said.

Investigators search for links
Al-Qaida in Iraq is believed to have become better organized since Abu Ayyub al-Masri, an Egyptian, took it over from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian who was killed by coalition forces a year ago. Iraqi officials also have said the terrorist group is now delegating more authority to sympathetic cells in other countries.

Police also are reportedly trying to determine if Abdullah and Ahmed had taken part in the attempted bombings in London and whether they were the ringleaders of a cell containing all the suspects.

Ahmed, identified by staff at Glasgow’s Royal Alexandra Hospital as a Lebanese physician employed there, is now being treated for horrific burns suffered when he set himself on fire after crashing the Jeep.

Computers seized in Australia
In Australia, police seized computers from two hospitals Friday as they explored connections between the British plotters and Muhammad Haneef, an Indian doctor arrested there.

“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 British national newspapers in praise of the emergency services and to declare that terrorism is “not in our name,” borrowing the slogan from the mass protests in Britain against the invasion of Iraq.

The ads from the Muslims United coalition 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.”

Man sentenced to 9 years
Separately, an immigrant to Britain who collected information about staging terrorist attacks was sentenced to nine years in prison Friday. Omar Altimimi, 37, came to England from the Netherlands in 2002 and applied for asylum, but police have been unable to establish his true identity or nationality, prosecutors said.

He was convicted earlier this week of six counts of possessing material of use to terrorists and two counts of money laundering.

“You were indeed, as the prosecution contend, a sleeper for some sort of terrorist organization,” said Judge David Maddison. “It is not known, when, if and how you might have been called upon to play your part.”

The manuals in his possession included instructions on using gas canisters to make car bombs, prosecutors said, but there was no indication that Altimimi had any connection to the failed bombing attempts in London and Glasgow.

His co-defendant Yusuf Abdullah, 30, a native of Yemen who pleaded guilty to two counts of money laundering, received a two-year sentence.

NBC News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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