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The British investigation into a series of failed terrorist attacks is focusing on the country's National Health Service. At least four of the eight people in custody are foreign-born doctors and the others are also linked to the medical profession.
NPR national security correspondent Jackie Northam reports from London.
JACKIE NORTHAM: As British investigators piece together the events that led up to the terror plots in London and Glasgow, a clearer picture of the eight suspects has began to emerge. They are all skilled medical personnel, in their mid to late 20s. They had arrived in Britain over the past few years from Jordan, Iraq, India and Saudi Arabia. And they were all vetted by the National Health Service or NHS before being hired.
Sian Thomas, the deputy director of the NHS Employers Organization, says all prospective health care workers go through a number of extensive checks.
Ms. SIAN THOMAS (Deputy Director, National Health Service Employers Organization): These don't just include clinical assessment but also include verification of their identity, their registration with a professional body, and also extensive checks on their employment history. And our role is to make sure that those - that that very long list of checks is carried out robustly, including pre-criminal record checks and also checks to make sure people are legally able to work in this country.
NORTHAM: Among the suspects are a number of doctors. One is an Iraqi, a diabetes specialist who came to the U.K. less than a year ago after receiving his medical degree in Baghdad. A doctor of Indian origin, who had worked in a Liverpool hospital, was arrested at the airport in Brisbane, Australia, Monday. Another man is a Palestinian neurosurgeon, born in Saudi Arabia and raised in Jordan. His wife, who was also arrested with him over the weekend, is a lab technician.
At least half of those arrested worked in the same hospital near Glasgow. The big question investigators are trying to confirm is whether the eight suspects knew each other before they came to Britain; or if there was a plot, whether it was developed after they arrived.
Dr. Abdullah Shehu with the Muslim Doctors Association says he hopes the arrest don't affect the public's attitudes towards a foreign-born medical community.
Dr. ABDULLAH SHEHU (Chairman, Muslim Doctors and Dentists Association): Some have been in this country for more than 30 years or so and already have got children and family, integrated in the community as community leaders et cetera. And that no problem like this or in any way near this has ever happened before.
NORTHAM: More than 22,000 foreign doctors have arrived in Britain in the last three years alone. About 900 have come from Iraq. They help fill a desperate need in the U.K. for health care professionals. Many British doctors, nurses and technicians moved to the U.S. or Australia, where the pay is better.
Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, security spokeswoman for the opposition Conservative Party says there needs to be more stringent checks on who's allowed into the U.K.
Dame PAULINE NEVILLE-JONES (Security Spokeswoman, Conservative Party): It certainly raises the issue of whether - then, when somebody is in this country who's a foreign-born national, know whether they have to be monitored, which is a very unpleasant thought. I personally think that one would do a lot to staunch the difficulty by checking before people are allowed in. Tight border security, I fear, is going to be one of the penalties we do have to pay.
NORTHAM: None of the eight terror suspects has been charged yet. Some families and colleagues say they are shocked by the arrests. The group of eight medical workers have very different backgrounds, and others involved in recent plots and attacks in Britain, including the suicide bombings of London's transportation systems on July 7th, 2005, which left 52 people dead.
Most of the men responsible for those attacks were born, grew up and were radicalized in impoverished immigrant areas of northern England. They weren't the highly skilled foreign professionals who came from abroad and who are now being detained by British authorities.
Jackie Northam, NPR News, London.
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