U.K. Attacks: Local Effort, or Part of Bigger Scheme? As the investigation into the failed attacks in Britain continues, police have raided a house in Scotland reported to have been used as a "bomb factory." Meanwhile, intelligence and security officers in Britain are trying to piece together details of the planning behind the attempted attacks.
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U.K. Attacks: Local Effort, or Part of Bigger Scheme?

Hear NPR's Jackie Northam

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

In Britain, more details are emerging about the suspects arrested after the failed car bombings in London and Glasgow. Investigators are trying to find out if the bomb plot was hatched among a small group of medical professionals in the U.K., or if the plan was directed by an outside group, such as al-Qaida.

NPR's Jackie Northam has the story from London.

JACKIE NORTHAM: When Britain reduced its terror threat level from critical to severe yesterday, it sent a signal that the authorities were confident they had arrested the key suspects in the bomb plot. With eight people in custody, British intelligence officials are now focused on some of the most fundamental facts of the case: Who the suspects are and what allegedly drove them to plan terror attacks? Unlike other recent terror plots in Britain, the people involved in this one were foreign, well-educated, skilled professionals in the medical field.

Sir Ian Blair is the head of London's Metropolitan police.

Sir IAN BLAIR (Commissioner, London's Metropolitan Police Service): One of the things we found with al-Qaida-affiliated terrorism is that the tactics change all the time. But the situation we've got at the moment is new in the sense that there's a different group of people than we've had before.

NORTHAM: The suspects come from various countries in the Middle East - Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, two of them come from India. They came to work in the U.K. at different times over the past few years. British security forces are trying to build a detailed picture of how their lives interconnected. Such as, did they go to school together or did they have some kind of family tie?

Anthony Glees is with the Center for Intelligence and Security Studies at Brunel University.

Professor ANTHONY GLEES (Director, Brunel Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies): Were these people coming in from the outside to the United Kingdom in order to commit terrorist acts? Or were they perfectly ordinary people coming to the United Kingdom to undertake medical studies and practice as doctors, who were radicalized here.

NORTHAM: The question is, if they were recruited, who recruited them? Police are said to be particularly interested in one of the suspects, Bilal Abdullah. He was born in Britain, but grew up in Iraq, where he received his medical degree. He's been working at a hospital near Glasgow for less than a year. Abdullah's family and colleagues say he was a fervent Muslim.

One friend, Shiraz Maher, told the BBC about an incident when Abdullah felt another Muslim man didn't pray enough.

Mr. SHIRAZ MAHER (Bilal Abdullah's friend): He put this DVD on of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi beheading one of the hostages, and he said, look, if you don't, this is what we do. We slaughter.

NORTHAM: British security officials say that Abdullah's alleged contacts with radicals in Baghdad raises a possibility that al-Qaida in Iraq may have been behind the plot. But analysts say it's possible some, or all, of the suspects drew inspiration and direction from other groups.

But M.J. Gohel, an analyst with the security think tank the Asia-Pacific Foundation, says experience with previous terror investigations showed how difficult it was to penetrate these groups, particularly those based in Afghanistan or Pakistan.

Mr. M.J. GOHEL (Security Analyst, Asia-Pacific Foundation): We have never been able to identify or locate these mystery men, these people who have been the guiding hand, who have provided inspiration maybe, the finance, the training, et cetera. Those people are still out there and they can, of course, recruit others.

NORTHAM: The names of several of the suspects were on a British intelligence database, not as known jihadists, but because they had communicated with some extremists. Garry Hindle, with the Royal United Services Institute, says he doubts the suspects were part of a broader, sophisticated terror network.

Mr. GARRY HINDLE (Royal United Services Institute): If they are the cell that has come to the U.K. with a purpose of carrying out this attack, why weren't they more proficient? Why did they fail?

NORTHAM: So far, none of the suspects has been charged. They can be held for up to one month while police carry on with their investigation.

Jackie Northam, NPR News, London.

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