I was set to lead with the news from the BBC that all eight suspects are medical professionals — seven of them doctors — and all are linked to Britain’s NHS. Turns out that’s just a footnote to the real scoop, though.
British intelligence services increasingly believe that the failed car bombings in London and Glasgow bare the fingerprints of al Qaeda in Iraq, CBS News has learned.
Intelligence sources tell CBS News that the people behind the attempts were directly recruited by Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, the present leader of the terror group’s Iraq franchise.
Police investigating the plot had arrested eight people Tuesday, including at least six suspects trained as doctors, including a man of Indian nationality arrested in Australia. Sources close to the investigation told CBS News on Tuesday that another two or three arrests were likely to be seen in Britain, but that two of the people already in custody were likely to be released without charge.
Sources tell CBS News that al-Muhajir recruited the men between 2004 and 2005, while they were living in the Middle East, upon orders from then-al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Al-Muhajir was told to recruit young men who could easily move into Western countries, assimilate and lay low until the time came to attack. Britain has a fast-track visa program for medical students which makes it easier for them to enter the country.
Hence the interest in doctors. Hey, anyone else remember that press conference Bush gave back in May in which he claimed Osama had ordered Zarqawi to launch attacks in the west? And all our bien pensants laughed because of course “there was never any evidence that Zarqawi had any ambitions beyond Iraq’s borders” — even though there was? I’m just flagging that for you now in case this CBS story pans out so that you’ll know what you’re looking at when the old media CW metamorphoses into the new media CW right before your very eyes.
Stand by for updates.
Update: One obvious question is why the attacks failed so badly given the bombmaking expertise at al-Muhajir’s disposal. Another question is whether all of the suspects (of which there are, presumably, five or six given what the blockquote says about two of them probably being cleared soon) really were in the Middle East at or around the same time. According to the Independent, Mohammed Asha came to Britain in 2005; before that he was in Jordan, where Zarqawi was from and where he’d staged at least one terrorist operation before his death. If he did meet directly with al-Muhajir, the latter probably came The same Independent article places Bilal Abdulla, the unburned Glasgow jihadi from Iraq, in Britain as of 2006. One possibility is that al-Muhajir didn’t directly recruit all of the suspects but only one or two ringleaders, who were in turn dispatched to recruit other doctors. That’s how AQ leadership allegedly recruits these days — by training trainers in Pakistan who are then sent back to their home countries to lure the locals. A detail in the Guardian supports that theory:
While those under arrest reveal the international nature of the linked attacks, two sources with knowledge of the investigation said there was a belief that some of the cell were homegrown. Describing current thinking about the nature of those behind the conspiracy, a counter-terrorism source said: “Some are British.” Another well-placed official said a British element “remained a possibility”.
The same article alleges that Asha is the ringleader, which means he’s the likeliest candidate to have met with al-Muhajir personally. But when and where? According to profiles of him, he was famous among his acquaintances for being consumed with his studies. When would he have gone to Iraq? Or did al-Muhajir slip across to Jordan to meet with him there? Seems hard to believe one of Zarqawi’s top lieutenants would have risked a border crossing for something like this.
Update: On the other hand:
CBS News has found a posting dated Feb. 20, 2006, by someone using the name Mohammed Asha, of Jordanian nationality, on an Islamic Internet chat forum. Referring to a cartoon depicting the Prophet Mohammed published by European newspapers, the post reads: “We have had to put up with you in the West for a long time. But now, after you insulted our prophet, we shall not forgive you.”
The posting was found on a forum that did not appear to represent or be a regular platform exclusively for extremist view points.
The Times floats a little circumstantial evidence too:
Neighbors said the family was insular, but in the last few weeks two men who appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent had started staying with the Ashas at the house.
Chris Shaw, a postal worker who delivered mail to the Asha family, said he was struck that over the last three months or so, Dr. Asha started receiving more packages and certified mail than usual.
Update: Breaking now on Sky — British cops say they have all the “key suspects” in custody.
Gordon Brown has banned ministers from using the word “Muslim” in connection with the terrorism crisis.
The Prime Minister has also instructed his team – including new Home Secretary Jacqui Smith – that the phrase “war on terror” is to be dropped.
The shake-up is part of a fresh attempt to improve community relations and avoid offending Muslims, adopting a more “consensual” tone than existed under Tony Blair.
Read ex-jihadi Hassan Butt’s thoughts on how to approach this issue if you haven’t already. He’s a bit more, shall we say, forthright about the problem.
Update: Two more arrests now, both in Blackburn. No word yet on whether there’s a medical connection.
Update: Best guesses are that the jihadis here were trying to make their own fuel-air bomb. Go over to Confederate Yankee and see for yourself what one of them does when it’s made properly. Remember, according to Larry Johnson, this is a “non-event.” Click the image to watch.
Update: “[U]p to 12 members of Al Qaeda were sent to work in the NHS,” sources tell the Daily Mail, which also has a scoop about why the Glasgow bombing seemed even more amateurish than the London car bombs:
It emerged the Glasgow attack was carried out in a moment of panic after the two suspected terrorists who drove a Jeep into the airport realised police were minutes away from arresting them.
The net was closing in on junior doctor Bilal Abdulla and his companion but just minutes before the attack, a phone call to their home alerted them that police were on their way, according to sources.
As Met police officers, who had travelled to Glasgow the night before, approached their rented home in the commuter village of Houston, Renfrewshire, the men are said to have been speeding down the motorway towards Glasgow Airport to complete their mission earlier than planned.
The obvious question: who tipped them?
Update: This is beyond parody:
In Glasgow, police carried out controlled explosions on a car outside a mosque in the city at around 5am. The car, which has now been removed for forensic analysis, was linked to Saturday’s attack on Glasgow airport.
Officers had waited for prayers at the mosque, which is not linked to the inquiry, to finish before looking at the car. The bomb squad was called in as a precaution and there was no intelligence that a device was inside.
Update: Iraqi NSA Mowaffaq al-Rubaie says it wouldn’t surprise him if the Glasgow jihadis cut their chops in Iraq.
Update: Sort of old news by now, but Sky is confirming from its sources that the Glasgow jihadis also drove the car bombs in London. The name of the burned suspect is Dr. Khalid Ahmed.
Update: Star Newsweek reporters Isikoff and Hosenball tackle the AQI angle and come up with … not much we didn’t already know.
An official familiar with the investigation said that no firm connection had yet been established between any of the suspects and the Iraq group, and there certainly is no evidence yet that it might have orchestrated the U.K. plot. But, said the official, there may be reason to suspect that those detained have been in touch with known associates of the ultra-violent insurgent group set up by Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi.
However, because the Iraq connection is so tentative at this stage, officials on both sides of the Atlantic remain skeptical that the U.K. plot was orchestrated by Al Qaeda’s top leaders…
British and U.S. officials contacted by NEWSWEEK said investigators were still trying to figure out how the suspects in the plot—eight have now been arrested in the U.K. and Australia, and seven are believed to be doctors or medical students—got together to plan and carry out the failed bombings. A British official said it was possible all had somehow cooked up the plot before coming to Britain. But it is also possible they did not meet up until after all were in the country, where they appear to have had easy entrée to Britain’s medical education and nationalized health-care systems.