Not all that surprising if the CBS story about them being linked to Al Qaeda in Iraq is true (which it might not be, but more on that in a moment). This would be easier to believe, though, if British sources hadn’t spent the last four days telling the papers they were going to have a collective coronary if these guys turned out to be “cleanskins,” i.e., completely unknown to western intelligence.

So it turns out, conveniently, they weren’t cleanskins. They were just a bit more dangerous than MI5 thought.

Several doctors arrested over the London and Glasgow car bomb plot were on the files of MI5, it was disclosed last night.

At least one was on a Home Office watch list after being identified by security services – meaning their travel in and out of Britain was monitored by immigration officers.

Others were found to be on the MI5 database, which contains an estimated 2,000 suspected jihadists or supporters of terrorism.

Whitehall sources said they had not been involved in previous plots, but were “people who knew people” who were under observation.

The fact that they were “on the radar” was one reason why the investigation has moved so fast since the failed plot was sprung last Friday morning.

The Daily Mail says there may be as many as four of them in MI5’s files. But were they really working for AQI? The Telegraph is skeptical:

British security sources insisted there was no intelligence that al-Qa’eda commanders plotted to infiltrate the NHS.

Most of the alleged cell members arrived in this country after 2004 to take up NHS jobs. It is believed they were recruited in Britain. Whitehall sources said that, as yet, there was no sign of any orders, instructions or training from al-Qa’eda based in Pakistan.

Isikoff and Hosenball made the same point today about AQ leadership in Pakistan not being involved. Doubtless that’s true, but no one’s suggesting that they were; after all, they’re not involved in day to day operations in Iraq either. The question is whether AQI freelanced this by recruiting some of the actual operatives in the Middle East or, alternatively, recruiting a ringleader who was sent to Britain to recruit there. I mentioned a story in the previous thread in the Guardian about a possible homegrown element to this plot; tonight CBS is hearing the same thing, “that two or three arrests were likely to be seen in Britain by the end of the week and that some of the arrests will be of British nationals.”

Stay tuned. Meanwhile, another British ex-jihadist is begging mainstream Muslim leaders to denounce extremism. And right on cue, here’s one now. If only his group didn’t muddle the message by “staying away” from Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Update: Finally, the AQI connection explained.

An al-Qaeda leader in Iraq boasted before last week’s failed bombings in London and Glasgow that his group was planning to attack British targets and that “those who cure you will kill you”, The Times has learnt…

Canon White told The Times that he had passed the general warning, but not the specific words, to a senior official at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in mid-April. A Foreign Office spokesman said last night that it was forwarding the actual words to the Metropolitan Police…

Canon White, who runs Baghdad’s only Anglican parish, said that he met the al-Qaeda leader on the fringes of a meeting about religious reconciliation held in Amman, the Jordanian capital…

The man, who was in his forties and had travelled from Syria for the meeting, said that the plans would come to fruition in the next few weeks and target the British first. He said that the British and Americans were being targeted because of their actions in Iraq. He did not learn the man’s identity until after the meeting, and will not disclose it now, but said: “I met the Devil that day.”

Forgive a stupid question here but what’s an Al Qaeda capo doing hanging around interfaith outreach meetings? And talking to Christian clerics, no less?

Another detail from the Times piece worth footnoting: Bilal Abdulla, the Iraqi doctor who drove the Jeep in Glasgow, first met Mohammed Asha, the accused ringleader, in the Middle East through their fathers, who were friends. They kept in touch (to say the least) after both arrived in Britain.

Update: Tony Blair bad, Gordon Brown good!

Update: We have our first “broad strata” alert of this incident. With Iraqis and Jordanians already in the mix, there’s no telling how diverse this group of medically trained Arab Islamist nuts will get.

Update: Cops tell the Guardian that they suspect fuel-air bombs were used because the plotters knew British intel was keeping tabs on fertilizer purchases. Propane flies a little further under the radar so it’s a safer, albeit less effective, bet for an attack these days. Meanwhile, the Independent has more background on Bilal Abdulla and Khalid Ahmed, the two men who actually carried out the attacks. The more I read, the more it looks like Abdulla might be the ringleader:

Shiraz Maher, a friend of Bilal Abdulla and a former member of controversial Islamic group Hizb-ut-Tahir, told Newsnight: “He supported the insurgency in Iraq. He actively cheered the deaths of British and American troops in Iraq. One of his best friends had been killed by a Shia militia tank while he was at medical school. He was clearly very angry about what was happening. But to say it was just all about Iraq or foreign policy is mistaken. It feeds off a much wider ideological infrastructure.“…

[T]he police believe Dr Abdulla and Dr Ahmed were the most active members of the cell and those tasked with carrying out the attacks. The two men lived what was considered uneventful and normal lives in Glasgow and Dr Abdulla made efforts to fit into the local environment attending Glasgow Rangers football matches. According to the security agencies the two men arrived in London last week driving the two Mercedes saloons. Dr Abdulla is said to have been subsequently identified by an employee of an establishment in Haymarket, where the two cars were parked. Unconfirmed reports say that he was also photographed by a CCTV camera in the area.