- June 29: Two Mercedes cars loaded with petrol, gas cylinders and nails found in Central London. No arrests made.
- June 30: A burning jeep with gas cylinders crashes into the Glasgow airport's main terminal building.
Bilal Abdullah, an Iraqi doctor, was the passenger in the jeep. It was being driven by a person variously named as Khaleef or Khalil Ahmed, who is suffering from 90 per cent burns to his body.
What is Khaleef or Khalil Ahmed's identity?
Conflicting reports. Earlier described as Lebanese, it's now said he is Indian.
Who are the others arrested?
In England: Mohammad Asha, his wife Marwa, Sabeel Ahmed and two other medicos whose names have not been released. Australia: Mohd Haneef, who is said to be related to Sabeel.
The number of Indians arrested?
For sure, two-Sabeel Ahmed and Mohd Haneef; number could go up to three if proved that Khalil is Indian.
The Bangalore connection
Both Sabeel and Haneef passed out from the city's Dr B.R. Ambedkar Medical College affiliated to the Rajiv Gandhi University of Health services
Like the Heathrow bombing scare of last year, Britain has been shaken up these past days by a sense of what might have been, and in this case, nearly was. That Heathrow scare was all in the air--the liquid explosive you could quietly pack into cosmetics bottles was never found--but last week's incidents in Central London and Glasgow were all threateningly close to an actual attack. Three vehicles were packed with petrol and gas cylinders, at least one with nails as well, and one of these was actually blown up at Glasgow airport.
That the attacks didn't quite work out could be a rather simple consequence of doctors not making for effective terrorists. Because what some good doctors attempted here was a conceptual, and in itself intelligent enough application of the 9/11 model--in the absence of access to explosives, use fuel and available means of transport itself as explosive. Where they went wrong was with the timing and detonating device that would make the critical conversion from explosive to explosion. Some reports suggesting that a combination of syringes and mobile phone signals was attempted to set off a detonation makes sense because of the medicos involved in the plot, but not in terms of trained terrorists. An Al Qaeda-like group would have taught better.
The Glasgow attempt was just as clumsy. Driving a jeep into a building in Glasgow was never in itself going to set off an explosion. When the driver later set fire to it, burning himself first, no damage was done at the airport that some builders cannot fix in a week. Again, a quite untrained move. But one that is both reassuring and worrying. Reassuring, because almost certainly no real terrorist group was behind these attempts. Worrying, because the attempt shows how commonly available material such as petrol and gas cylinders can be deployed to shake up a nation. And if tapped more effectively through a detonating device, to blow up bits of it as well.
It's worrying also because Britain continues periodically to produce people with at least the will to carry out terrorist attacks, if not the means. As Britain marks the second anniversary of the July 7 bombings this week, the hovering question is what next, who next. In a recurring will to hit out, someone always seems to pick up the invisible baton someone else left behind. And always there's something Islamic about that baton, even though, unusually this time, it was not Pakistani, the nationality of the four young men who two years ago, on July 7, targeted London's underground trains.
The B.R. Ambedkar Medical College from where Sabeel and Haneef graduated
Last week's attempts, though, make nonsense of all the 7/7 theories sociologists are so fond
of--youngsters without job, without hope, without a place in Britain outside of home and mosque where they could hope to raise their heads in respect. The people the cops are investigating this time round are doctors well-placed financially and professionally.
No certainty yet that every doctor named is for that reason guilty; the police will not necessarily charge every one of them. But the one doctor against whom there's a watertight case is Bilal Abdullah, the Iraqi in the jeep that crashed into the Glasgow airport building. More than the July 7 bombers who had talked of their anger over Iraq, he would have reason to be angry. Early reports suggest Abdullah graduated from a Baghdad medical college in 2004--a year after the invasion of Iraq led by the United States and Britain. He would have seen in that year the brutal face of the invasion, and like the rest of Iraq would have lost the dream of the invaders bringing to Iraq the sort of democracy and development they know back home. An associate of his has said in an interview to the BBC that Abdullah was "very angry about the West", that he "actively cheered the deaths of British and American troops in Iraq". A report in The Daily Mail says Abdullah's father had to wind up his medical clinic in Baghdad to flee to the relative safety of Arbil in Iraq's Kurdistan region to the north. All this could just about have everything to do with the attempt in London and the attack in Glasgow.
Through four years of occupation in Iraq doctors have been particularly persecuted, and at least half have fled Baghdad's hospitals. Occupation forces have carried out frequent raids on hospitals on suspicion that injured resistance fighters, or "terrorists" as the occupation forces call them, are given refuge and treatment. Every one of the roughly 2,000 Iraqi doctors on Britain's National Health Service knows how their fraternity in Iraqi has been been brutalised, how it has been rendered helpless in offering treatment for lack of medicines and electricity. The highly respected British medical journal, The Lancet, has reported that at least 6,50,000 additional deaths have taken place in Iraq as a consequence of the invasion. Nobody would have seen these deaths more closely than the doctors in Iraq.
In looking at last week's story as a story with an Indian connection--because of the suspicion that has fallen on Indian doctors--we might just be missing that this really is an Iraqi story.
To the extent that there is an Indian link, it could be Indian by nationality but Iraqi in content--assuming a shared Islamic anger over Iraq. And the extent of such an Indian link is by no means certain. The police are pursuing suspicion by association, and everyone named as a suspect is not necessarily guilty. Two Indians have been detained till now--Mohammad Haneef in Brisbane and Sabeel Ahmed here. Until Thursday, though, the police had not charged anyone.
Officially, the police were not naming anyone. Legally, they can name a suspect only when they bring charges. But the names appearing have come from the police nevertheless--there is no law against leaking information to the trusted media. Which is why the driver of the Glasgow jeep was named as either Khaleef or Khalid Ahmed, and his nationality declared variously as Lebanese, Iraqi and Indian--before the police indicated, without officially confirming it, that he was Indian. The media, with neither direct knowledge nor access to official information, has had to lean on sometimes conflicting leaks to 'keep up with the story'. The police have drawn the lines of an international terror plot from Brisbane to Glasgow through India and the Middle East. But we could be in for a long ride from insinuation to allegation, from suspicion to certainty, and finally, from a charge to conviction. The Heathrow 'plotters' of a year ago are nowhere near facing conviction yet.
Haneef's mother and sister in Bangalore
The case seems clear for the moment only against Abdullah. The focus of the probe has moved quickly from his known associates, and those of Ahmed, to possible origins back in Iraq. The suspected conspiracy involving non-Iraqis now means that just about every Muslim is suspect. "Such incidents always reinforce the stereotype," says Ghiyasudin Siddiqui, president of the Muslim Parliament in Britain. "That Muslims are irrational, unreliable, untrustworthy and basically insane." Concerned Muslims have asked for renewed protection around mosques, in a new indication of another feared backlash.
And given the naming of Indians as suspects, their seeking a future in Britain's health service could now become an unintended casualty. The highly skilled migrants programme of the British government was already under review, the new one ordered by Prime Minister Gordon Brown is unlikely to do any good to the purpose of Indian doctors. The National Health Service cannot survive without Indian doctors, currently about 28,000 of them are on the rolls, but these incidents could cap growth in the number. The NHS has anyway been moving towards recruiting more doctors from East Europe. Several hospitals prefer Indians for their skills and their knowledge of English, but that could change now to the advantage of East Europe.
But such professional casualties are not on the minds of many. The big fear is the real casualties that more successful attacks like this could cause. And that goes far beyond some suspicions around an Indian doctor or two, or even their involvement in such an attack. Because the ignition for the attack was not Indian--it was more Iraqi than Indian, more Baghdad than Bangalore. The bigger fear is that it may not have to be either in the future. No more than 3-4 people need to share anger enough to risk their lives. They will find ready explosive all around them. The biggest threat to world peace could turn out to be a cottage industry detonator that works.