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Originally published July 4, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 4, 2007 at 2:04 AM

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Terror plot: Why would doctors be involved?

Ayman al-Zawahri, al-Qaida's No. 2. George Habash of the PLO. Mahmoud Zahar, the Hamas strongman in Gaza. All trained as doctors, as did...

The Associated Press

LONDON — Ayman al-Zawahri, al-Qaida's No. 2. George Habash of the PLO. Mahmoud Zahar, the Hamas strongman in Gaza. All trained as doctors, as did nearly all of the suspects in the failed bomb attacks in Britain.

The public often is shocked to see that doctors — the world's healers — can become militants or even terrorist killers.

But some experts believe it is part of a trend in which wealthy families educate their sons well, and those sons sometimes become radical and have the education needed to become leaders.

"People often assume that terrorists are poor, disadvantaged people who are brainwashed or need the money. But the ones who actually perpetrate violence without handlers and manipulation are highly intelligent by necessity," said Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert at the Swedish National Defense College in Stockholm.

"It's only the smart ones who will survive security pressures in a subversive existence. Sometimes they are doctors, a profession that provides a brilliant cover and allows entry to countries like Britain," he said Tuesday.

At least five of the eight suspects in the failed terrorist attacks in London and Glasgow, Scotland, were identified as doctors from Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and India, while staff at a Glasgow hospital said two others were a medical student and a junior doctor. One was a medical assistant. All eight are believed to have worked for Britain's National Health Service.

"It sends rather a chill down the spine to think that people's values can be so perverted," said Pauline Neville-Jones, former head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, which advises the British government.

No one has been charged in the plot, in which two car bombs failed to explode in central London early Friday and two men rammed a Jeep Cherokee loaded with gas cylinders into the entrance of Glasgow Airport, then set the vehicle on fire Saturday.

Newspapers carried headlines such as "Dr. Terror," "Doctor Evil" and "Terror cell in the NHS," the country's National Health Service.

The suspects include:

• Bilal Talal Abdul Samad Abdulla, 27, an Iraqi doctor who worked at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley, Scotland. He has been identified as a passenger in the Jeep Cherokee that plowed into the main terminal of Glasgow Airport.

• Khalid Ahmed, reported to be the driver of the Jeep, who was critically burned in the fire. He is believed to be a doctor who worked and roomed with Abdulla in Paisley. He is reportedly from Lebanon.

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• Mohammed Jamil Asha, 26, a Palestinian-Jordanian neurosurgeon, who was arrested along with his wife, Marwa Asha, 27, Saturday night. He worked at the North Staffordshire Hospital in Stoke-on-Trent. His wife was identified in British media reports as a medical assistant.

• Mohammed Haneef, 27, an Indian doctor who worked at Halton Hospital in Cheshire in 2005. He was detained in Brisbane, Australia.

• A man identified as Sabeel Ahmed, a doctor from India, reportedly worked with Haneef in Cheshire and was detained in Liverpool on Saturday.

• Two men, 25 and 28, arrested Sunday at Royal Alexandra Hospital. Staff said one was a medical student and the other a junior doctor, without giving their names. British media said they were from Saudi Arabia.

Counterterrorism experts caution that the suspects may not have been sent to Britain to infiltrate the medical system, but that the system, designed to help alleviate a doctor shortage, may have provided a relatively easy way into Britain.

There are 27,558 physicians from India, 1,985 from Iraq and 184 from Jordan registered in Britain.

Because police believe the suspects in Glasgow played central roles in the London plot and airport attack, the hunt for foreign links may focus on Abdulla, who is from Baghdad.

If doctors were leading the cell that plotted the attacks — which Prime Minister Gordon Brown said were "associated with al-Qaida" — it wouldn't be a first.

Al-Zawahri, an Egyptian who trained as a doctor, is Osama bin Laden's top deputy.

Three doctors have played prominent roles in militant Islamic groups in Gaza in recent years.

Mahmoud Zahar, one of the main Hamas leaders, was the physician of the group's founder, Sheik Ahmed Yassin. Zahar became a Hamas spokesman and leader in the late 1980s alongside his mentor. Yassin, a paraplegic, was killed in an Israeli airstrike in 2004.

Yassin's successor was Abdel Aziz Rantisi, a pediatrician. He was killed by an Israeli airstrike soon after Yassin.

Also, the founder of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Mohammed al-Hindi, earned his medical degree in Cairo, Egypt, in 1980. He returned to Gaza and formed the militant group a year later.

Habash, who trained as a pediatrician, founded and led the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which was behind a spate of aircraft hijackings in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The front has consistently been the second-largest of the groups forming the PLO, the largest being Fatah.

Los Angeles Times material is included in this report.

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