Sources: 2 in British bomb plot explored U.S. jobs

Posted: July 05, 2007

Two of the seven doctors arrested in Britain after last week's failed bomb attacks had explored the possibility of coming to the United States, making inquiries to a Philadelphia-based organization, sources said.

The two took preliminary steps to apply for graduate medical-education programs in this country, sources familiar with the FBI investigation told The Inquirer.

This is the first indication that members of the alleged terror cell in Britain expressed any interest in coming to the United States.

After the Glasgow airport bombing attempt, FBI agents visited the Philadelphia headquarters of the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates. The nonprofit organization is a national clearinghouse that certifies the qualifications of foreign-trained doctors to work as medical residents in the United States.

Agents found records there on two of the British suspects. One of them, sources said, is neurologist Mohammed Jamil Asha, 26, a Jordanian who was born in Saudi Arabia and is of Palestinian descent.

The name of the second doctor who expressed an interest in coming to the United States could not be learned.

Stephen S. Seeling, vice president of operations for the educational commission, confirmed that FBI agents visited him at his Market Street office this week.

Citing commission privacy rules, Seeling said he could not discuss the circumstances of the visit, or confirm any information about any foreign doctor who may have contacted the commission about coming to this country.

It could not be determined when Asha expressed an interest in coming to the United States, but, according to British news accounts, he graduated from medical school in Jordan in 2004.

Asha and his wife, Marwa, 27, a medical technician, were arrested by British authorities on a highway near their Manchester home Saturday, hours after the car-bomb attempt at the Glasgow airport.

Also in the car was their 11/2-year-old son, who was placed with British social services.

Asha and his wife are among eight foreign medical professionals arrested by British authorities in the plot, which began when two bomb-laden Mercedes-Benzes were discovered last week near a London nightclub.

British news reports have linked Asha with one of the Glasgow suspects, Bilal Abdulla. Asha worked eight weeks at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, where Abdulla lived in 2001.

According to the BBC, Asha trained at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital and the Princess Royal Hospital in Telford. He moved to the University Hospital of North Staffordshire and was working there as a neurologist. A doctor at Royal Alexandra Hospital in Glasgow said Asha also kept an office there.

In Jordan, security officials said Asha had no criminal record, and friends and family said they found it hard to believe that he and his wife were connected with the plot.

"We are an educated family and we reject all kinds of terrorism," Asha's mother, Fawzieh, told the Associated Press.

It could not be learned Thursday how far Asha and the second doctor had proceeded in the certification process, nor where in the United States they hoped to study.

Seeking certification from the educational commission, a nonprofit, private organization, is the first step in a multilayered process for graduates of foreign medical schools who seek a medical residency in the United States. Graduates of Canadian medical schools are exempt.

The organization verifies an applicant's medical-school credentials and administers three exams, identical to those required of graduates of American medical schools.

Last year, roughly 46,000 foreign-educated doctors applied to take at least one of the three tests, Seeling said.

The educational commission is not involved in the visa process, nor in the admissions process conducted by the 7,800 residency programs in the United States.

"We verify medical documents, credentials, diplomas and transcripts," Seeling said. "The doctors we certify are not guaranteed of anything. It's just another step in the process."

In Britain, Prime Minister Gordon Brown has ordered an investigation of the procedures for recruiting foreign doctors for the National Health Service, which Health Secretary Alan Johnson promised would be done "very quickly."

In Australia, the media reported Thursday that two Indian men detained in the British attempts had also applied to work in Western Australia but had been rejected.

According to the Sydney-based newspaper the Australian, the national medical association disclosed Wednesday that Sabeel Ahmed and his brother, Kafeel Ahmed, were rejected.

"We believed their qualifications and references did not meet the standards required in Western Australia," association official Geoff Dobbs said.


Contact staff writer John Shiffman

at 215-854-2658 or jshiffman@phillynews.com.

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