U.K. Terror Suspects Looked Toward U.S.

LONDON -- The FBI confirmed Friday that two suspects in the failed car bombings in Britain had contacted a clearinghouse for foreign doctors about working in the United States, and British officials probed links between the attacks and al-Qaida in Iraq.

An FBI spokeswoman said Mohammed Asha and another suspect had contacted the Philadelphia-based Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates, as first reported in The Philadelphia Inquirer. Asha, a Jordanian physician of Palestinian heritage, contacted the agency within the last year, but apparently did not take the test for foreign medical school graduates, said the spokeswoman, Nancy O'Dowd.

"He was applying, (but) we don't believe he took the test," she said.

O'Dowd could not immediately confirm the name of the second suspect.

The FBI visited the organization's office in West Philadelphia this week, O'Dowd said.

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 car loaded with gas canisters into the airport terminal in Glasgow, Scotland. The car ignited, seriously injuring one of the suspects. Both men in the car have been arrested.

"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 said in an interview with British Broadcasting Corp. television.

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 were connected with terrorism.

As police continue to question the eight suspects - six Middle Easterners and two Indian nationals - Britain's intelligence agencies are focusing on their 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 UK and consider mounting attacks here," the Web site said.

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.

The eight suspects arrested in Saturday's airport attack and two failed car bombings a day earlier in London were all foreigners working for Britain's state health system, and investigators are pressing to find what brought them together.

Police also are reportedly trying to determine if the two suspects arrested during the Glasgow attack, Bilal Abdulla and Khalid 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 loaded with rudimentary bombs into the airport.

Abdulla, a passenger in the Jeep, is an Iraqi doctor employed by Royal Alexandra.

Ahmed, who was burned over 90 percent of his body, was admitted to Royal Alexandra Hospital in critical condition. When he stabilized on Friday, he was sedated and moved to a burn unit at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, a city government spokesman said.

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."

Britain's investigation into the three failed attacks in London and Scotland comes as the country is preparing several small 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.

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.


Maryclaire Dale reported from Philadelphia. Associated Press writer Rod McGuirk contributed to this report from Canberra, Australia.

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