‘My Son Is Innocent, His Only Aim To Be A Doctor’

My son is innocent, his only aim to be a doctor

Rana Sabbagh-Gargour in Amman and David Lister in Paisley
From The Times
July 3, 2007

Jamil Asha was expecting his son Mohammed, a gifted young doctor working in Britain, to return home to Jordan for a holiday on July 12 with his wife and baby son. That looks extremely unlikely. His son has been arrested in connection with the attempted car bombings in London and Glasgow.

Mr Asha heard the news on the BBC at midday yesterday and told The Times that he could scarcely believe what was happening. My son is incapable of such acts, he said. Not all Arabs are terrorists. He acknowledged that his son was a devout Muslim, but insisted that he did not belong to any militant Islamic groups and that his only goal in life was to become an outstanding doctor. Mr Asha even appealed to King Abdullah of Jordan to intervene with the British authorities.

Is it possible that Dr Asha, 26, and other young doctors who have dedicated their professional careers to saving lives could, in their private capacities, be intent on murdering and maiming scores of innocent civilians?

Jordanian intelligence sources told The Times that Dr Asha had no criminal or security record. We know nothing about the suspect other than him being a medical doctor, an official said. We are waiting to hear from the British interrogators.

There was nothing in Dr Ashas background to suggest that he would be susceptible to the blandishments of terrorists. He would, however, not be the first Muslim from a good home and with a decent education to be radicalised after moving to the West.

Mohammed Asha is one of six brothers and two sisters, three of whom have now qualified as doctors and one as an engineer. They lived in Saudi Arabia, where his father taught Arabic, until the family returned to Amman in 1991. There they lived in a rundown block of flats, all owned by different members of the family, in the poor neighbourhood of Jabal Zuhour.

Mohammed Asha excelled quickly. He won a scholarship to the Jubilee School for gifted children. Later, at high school, he ranked third in the country in science. He obtained a medical degree from the University of Jordan in 2004, graduating with such distinction that he won a place at the University of Birmingham to specialise in neurology. He left for Britain in March 2005.

A spokesman for the Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Trust said that he spent a postqualification year working at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital and the Princess Royal Hospital in nearby Telford. He ended up at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire in Stoke-on-Trent, renting a detached house in Sunningdale Grove, Newcastle-under-Lyme.

Dr Asha lived there with his Jordanian wife, Marwa, 27, whom he had known since childhood and married while at university in Jordan. She had trained as a laboratory researcher but was not working in Britain.

Dr and Mrs Asha were in their car with their son, Anas, who is nearly 2, when the police stopped the vehicle on the M6 near Sandbach at 9.15pm on Saturday evening. The couple were arrested, and on Sunday their home was searched.

Dr Ashas older brother, Ahmad, who is married to a Ukrainian Christian, showed The Times Mohammeds tiny, dusty one-bedroom flat, which was devoid of any religious paraphernalia. He said that his mother was devastated by what had happened, but he was optimistic because his brother had a scientific mind and was not interested in Islamic militancy.

Indeed he had refused to join his university student council because it was too politicised. He was always exemplary. Hes a genius. If he wasnt a genius he would not have gone to Britain and nothing would have happened to him, Ahmad Asha said.

The police also searched a four-bedroom, mock-Tudor house in Priam Close, Newcastle-under-Lyme, barely a mile from Dr Ashas house, arriving shortly before dawn on Sunday. They tore up carpets and floorboards and virtually dismantled a maroon Ford Mondeo parked in the driveway.

Neighbours said that they took away a young Asian couple, one of whom they believed to be a doctor, though the police would not confirm this. The two properties were rented from the same letting agency, Homesearch, which refused to comment.

One of the occupants of the blazing Jeep that crashed into the front of Glasgow airport on Saturday was certainly a doctor, though it remained unclear last night whether he had any connection with Dr Asha. He was named as Bilal Talal Abdul Samad Abdulla, an Iraqi who qualified in Baghdad in 2004 as the insurgency against the USled invasion was gaining pace.

Patients and staff at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley turned up for work to find armed police ringing the grounds and forensic science officers searching an accommodation block used by junior doctors and other staff. Explosives experts carried out controlled explosions on two suspect cars. I couldnt believe what I was seeing, a pregnant women said as she left the nearby maternity unit. I was going for a scan and police officers with machineguns were all over the place.

Late on Sunday night the police arrested two other suspects, aged 28 and 25, at the same hospital. Reuters news agency reported that they were both believed to be doctors, of Middle Eastern origin, working in Scotland, but there was no confirmation of that.

Experts have long cautioned against the assumption that only the ignorant and poor embrace radical Islam. There is no shortage of Western-educated, middle-class professionals in the Arab world who are furious about what is happening in Iraq, and at the Wests perceived lack of concern for the plight of the Palestinians. Doctors have suffered particularly badly in Baghdad. Many have been killed, many more have been forced to flee and there is a desperate shortage of medicines and equipment.

Bob Ayres, an associate fellow at Chatham House, who specialises in security and intelligence, said that it should be no surprise if any of those behind last weekends foiled bombings turned out to be a doctor. Theres nothing magic about doctors, he said. To be surprised you would have to assume theres some linkage between a persons political and/or religious values and their occupation . . . This phenomenon of Islamic fundamentalism is not economic. Its ideological, and anyone can subscribe to the movement regardless of their economic circumstances.

*Additional reporting by Andrew Norfolk in Newcastle-under-Lyme


The investigation

Was it the work of al-Qaeda?
Gordon Brown said that the plots were linked to Osama bin Ladens al-Qaeda terrorist organisation

Did they come to Britain as sleepers, taking up respectable jobs as cover?
The security services discount this, saying that its too conspiratorial, and that its more likely the latest suspects became radicalised before turning to terrorism

Why did the West End bombs not go off?
The bombs were properly primed but required a signal from a mobile phone to set them off. Its believed that the mobile to trigger them failed to send an adequate signal

Did the bombs have an explosive component as well as petrol and gas canisters?
Scotland Yard said that the devices included the means to detonate an explosion

Are those arrested all Middle Eastern?
Yes, although they are of mixed ethnic backgrounds, with at least one of the two doctors arrested known to be Jordanian. None of them is Iranian, according to security sources

Were all the suspects arrested already known to the security authorities as radicalised Muslims?
No, after a search through MI5 and police databases, no trace has yet been found of the suspects in surveillance operations

Was this another plot planned and authorised by al-Qaeda terrorist leaders in Pakistan?
The judgment so far is that this was not a Pakistan-linked plot

Is it a surprise that the suspects so far appear to be in the medical profession and at the higher end of the social scale?
No, there is no template profile for a suspect. From previous bomb plots, it has become apparent that Islamic terrorists come from a whole range of different social and educational backgrounds. Some have been intelligent, well-integrated professionals, others have been social outcasts from poor backgrounds, or asylum-seekers.

Why has it been so difficult to identify the latest suspects?
It takes time to discover who a suspect really is. One asylum-seeker who turned terrorist claimed to have originated from a particular country in order to seek residency in Britain, but it was later discovered he had a different nationality altogether. International terrorists have multiple identities

How long will the critical threat level be maintained?
For as long as the police and MI5 believe there are members of the terrorist group still at large, although it is acknowledged that the highest threat status cannot be maintained for too long because of the pressure it places on the organisations and agencies having to work round-the-clock

What is the next objective of the police and security authorities?
After the arrests have been completed, every effort will be made to trace the international links to the London and Glasgow plot


The Brits that plotted to wreak death and carnage

Five men who hoped to kill thousands with a fertiliser bomb were described as ruthless misfits who betrayed their country
British bombers and the lost links to 7/7


Brown to get tough on terror
More than Vigilance
'Dirty bomb' mastermind plotted wave of atrocities across Britain
Three terror suspects 'are on the run'
The jihadi house parties of hate