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Doctors at heart of UK terror probe

  • Story Highlights
  • Australian paper says police believe up to 12 medics could be involved in plots
  • British tabloids publish stories with headlines like "Dr. Evil" and "Docs of War"
  • Doctors have been questioned or detained in Australia, England, Scotland
  • Expert says some doctors' desire to conduct jihad could override their oaths
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(CNN) -- Doctors taking the modern Hippocratic oath swear to "abstain from whatever is harmful or mischievous," but the investigation into plots to bomb targets in Britain suggests a group of medics may have ignored that vow.

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Dr. Mohammed Asha is suspected of being involved in the weekend's alleged terror plot in Britain.

None has been charged -- only detained, questioned or sought -- but British and Australian media are reporting it is no coincidence that all of those detained or questioned so far in the probe share the same profession.

"Investigators believe a network of up to a dozen medics from the Middle East were sent to infiltrate [Britain's National] Health Service as a cover for terrorist operations," reported The Daily Telegraph in Australia, where two doctors were being questioned about the plot.

Meanwhile, British tabloids have splashed the face of Jordanian physician Mohammed Asha across their Web sites, along with headlines such as "Doctor Evil" and "Doctor, father, husband ... bomb suspect." Video Watch how the probe led police to Australia »

Reports that those being questioned or detained by authorities are in the medical profession -- and even employees of the National Health Service -- prompted Britain's Daily Mirror tabloid to publish the headline "Docs of War."

Asha, 26, and his 27-year-old wife, reported to be a laboratory technician, were arrested Saturday in what police called a dramatic highway raid in northern England, hours after two men drove a Jeep Cherokee full of explosives and gas canisters into Scotland's Glasgow Airport.

Asha's neighbors in Newcastle-under-Lyme in North Staffordshire said another doctor of South Asian descent was part of the probe. Forensic teams were searching that unnamed doctor's home, about two miles from Asha's house, but it is unclear if this physician or his wife is in police custody. Photo Police search for evidence »

Police have identified one of the men suspected in the Glasgow attack as a 27-year-old Iraqi doctor, Bilal Abdulla, who worked at Royal Alexandra Hospital in Glasgow. The other man in the car is in critical condition with severe burns at Royal Alexandra. British media have identified him as Dr. Khalid Ahmed.

Police reportedly were tracking both men since Friday, when they were linked to two car bombs parked in central London.

Two other suspects, described only as 25- and 28-year-old men, were detained Monday at Royal Alexandra after police searched doctors' quarters there. Police have not indicated whether the men are doctors, but sources close to the investigation said they were Saudi medical students.

In Australia, police were questioning two doctors Monday, one of whom, Mohammed Haneef, 27, was an Indian national working at a Brisbane hospital, Australian officials said.

Haneef formerly worked at a hospital in Liverpool, England, where hospital and police officials say another doctor was detained Sunday. Haneef was detained at Brisbane Airport before he boarded a flight to India, police said.

The other doctor in Brisbane was being questioned by Australian authorities but was not officially in police custody, said Queensland Premier Peter Beattie.

Paul Wilkinson, chairman of the Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, said Tuesday it should come as no surprise if the men are determined to be terror conspirators -- regardless of their profession. (Osama bin Laden's top lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is an Egyptian doctor.)

"Their oaths as doctors are overridden by their need to conduct a global jihad," he said, conceding that the public is likely to be shocked "to find that people who are trained in saving lives are assisting in causing deaths on a large scale."

Added Richard Barnes, who chaired the homeland and border security conference in London where Wilkinson made his remarks: "It is important to understand how someone who can take an oath to save lives can then plan to take life in the most hideous way possible."

But even if terrorism experts are coming to grips with the notion that would-be bombers can come from the medical profession, Britain's medical professionals are still incredulous.

"We are a healing profession," Prasad Rao, chairman of the British International Doctors Association, told The Guardian newspaper. "It shocked me to hear that a doctor could remotely be connected to the people who are trying to kill and maim people for no reason."

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Rao further told the newspaper that, if convicted, the men being questioned or detained in the plot violated more than the law.

"A doctor's duty, even if he finds an injured terrorist, is to give medical help," Rao said. "You never knowingly help or assist an individual to kill and maim others. You take the Hippocratic oath, and you do not discriminate on the basis of color or gender or religion." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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