AnalysisIt could be worse: Doctors may use knowledge, access in plots

Published 6 July 2007

The eight suspected arrested in the U.K. after last week’s terror attacks are either doctors or members of the health profession

There is a striking — and worrisome — aspect to last week’s terrorist attacks, or near-attacks, in the Uited Kingdom: All the eight suspects arrested, six Arabs and two Indians, are either doctors or members of the health profession. Rigging a car to become a car bomb, and leaving it near a crowded night club or driving it into an airport terminal, is bad enough. It could be worse though: What if the eight suspects were to exploit their professional expertise directly to launch an attack involving bioterrorism or the use of radiological material?

Experts say that even though medical knowledge was not part of this plot, the idea that Islamist militants could infiltrate Britain’s health system would alarm the security services. “Doctors are ideally placed to have easy access to chemicals, biological and even radiological material,” said M. J. Gohel of the London-based Asia-Pacific Foundation. “If all of these doctors are involved in this cell, that is very disturbing. That is a new dimension entirely for the security services.”

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he had asked Britain’s new counter-terrorism minister to carry out an immediate review of recruitment to Britain’s National Health Service, in which nearly 40 percent of doctors are foreign-trained. Analysts said the need for improved screening extended to other sensitive professions such as airline pilots and people working in critical areas of national infrastructure. “This is very hard to do. How do you screen people for their political beliefs? Obviously it’s very controversial as well, but there is clearly a threat here,” says Henry Wilkinson, an analyst at consultant firm Janusian Security Risk Management[/url].