S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Monday, July 02, 2007

The irony of doctor/terrorists

(illustration: cover of book by Mary Habeck)
What makes the terrorists tick? Hearing Dr. Mary Habeck talk of her research about terrorists caused a number of people to look more deeply at what is behind their motivations. Tim Rutten's 2006 book review in the Houston Chronicle is a very illuminating look at Habeck's theses, about which I wrote last year. I thought of her work again today as I looked for clues for what on earth would cause a doctor to become a terrorist.
Medical ethics are centered in saving human lives. It seems that, in the case of the recent terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom, this tenet has been turned on its head.
The information was sparce at first. For example, from London's Financial Times (7/1/07), came this short paragraph:

Various British media organisations reported that the two arrested on the M6 were doctors, one of them who worked at North Staffordshire Hospital, but there was no official confirmation of this.

There is always lot of luck involved in whether terrorists succeed. The "Hamburg cell" plotters of the 9/11 attacks in the United States had to have a lot of luck to succeed. That these current plotters were much less successful is only due to their own ineptitude, a measure of bad luck, and the alertness of citizens, common people. What a shame that these two doctors had been radicalized towards death and destruction, rather than saving lives and healing. Two doctors and five others are now under arrest. One of them, clearly suicidal, is now at risk of death. The others are in custody, and we do not know how many are still at large. The headline summarizes the current situation: "Two more held over bomb attacks." it is from the BBC News (7/2/07). To quote,

The arrests of the men, aged 25 and 28, take the number of people held over the attempted bombings to seven.

Houses are being searched in Houston, near Paisley, Merseyside, and in Staffordshire, where one of two doctors arrested in the inquiry lived.

By today there was a terrifying irony in the following headline from (7/2/07): "Doctors detained in UK terror probes." The first doctor, now in critical condition, is being treated in his own hospital near Glasgow. Quoting the pertinent paragraphs from the story,

One of the suspects, who is in critical condition at Royal Alexandra Hospital near Glasgow, is a doctor at the hospital where he is being treated for severe burns, according to the woman who owns his rental house.

It is believed that he shared the house on Neuk Crescent Street in the small Scottish village of Houston, about 3 kilometers (2 miles) from Glasgow's airport, with the other suspect who is in police custody.

How many suspects are actually doctors? Others may be "medical workers." The image of the second doctor, a terrorist "leaving for work" with a stethoscope around his neck, is enough to spin one's head. It just does not compute. But it may, indeed be true. The officials with the information are not confirming these details, according to the story in USA Today (7/2/07), headlined, "Two more arrested in Glasgow attack." To quote,

Police said Monday they had arrested two more men as suspects in the car bomb attack on Glasgow airport as details emerged that authorities had been close on the trail of the suspects, one of whom may have been a local doctor.

. . . He said the man was seen leaving the house wearing a stethoscope and was thought to be a doctor at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley on the outskirts of Glasgow. A controlled explosion was carried out Sunday on a car left at the hospital. Police said it was linked to the airport attack.

Residents of homes that were raided by police in central England and Liverpool have claimed suspects arrested were doctors or medical students. Britain's Sky News and several British newspapers also reported that two men arrested over the attacks were doctors working in British hospitals. But police in London and Glasgow have refused to comment on the claims.

It is unclear which terrorist group is behind this. Many of the news reports point to clues based on the method of operation used in the attacks. Others look to the county of origin of the arrested suspects. The following story carried information about both theories. It is from the New York Times (of 7/2/07). The headline concludes that British authorities suspect al Qaeda: "In Hunt for Bomb Plotters, Britain Sees a Qaeda Link." But other information hints at a connection to a radical Kurdish group in Iran. To quote,

. . . One of the detainees was a medical doctor of Iranian-Kurdish descent, according to two people with knowledge of the police inquiry. One of those people, and a BBC report, identified him as Mohammed Asha, 26, and a newspaper, The Sun, said he worked at North Staffordshire hospital near the Midlands town of Newcastle-under-Lyme, where the police searched a house on Sunday.

. . . Despite the British government’s assertions of a link to Al Qaeda, it presented no evidence of connections to Al Qaeda operatives or those who derive inspiration from the group. British intelligence agencies had warned the government last April that terrorist attacks might be initiated by Iranian Kurds to coincide with the end of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s term of office, according to a person who saw the warning. Mr. Blair handed power to Gordon Brown last Wednesday.

The government has not confirmed that report, and it is unclear precisely why Iranian Kurds would be aggrieved. But a radical Kurdish group, Ansar al-Islam, was largely driven out of northern Iraq four years ago when American and British forces overthrew Saddam Hussein, and it has since found a haven in Iran, security officials have said.

The plot thickens - The multiple "bombing with cars" attempts coincided with the changing of the guard between Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Does this relate to the above NYT story? In the case of the North Staffordshire Hospital doctor, he is an Iranian of Kurdish descent (out of Lebanon?), according to an LA Times (7/2/07) story headlined,"British anti-terror forces in high gear."

In central England, police were carrying out forensic searches of houses in Newcastle-under-Lyme, in the county of Staffordshire. Neighbors told British reporters that the man arrested on the M6 highway lived in one the houses searched and that he was a physician from Lebanon who worked at a local hospital.

Second doctor from Lebanon or Iran or both? It is risky to speculate, but what if, like many of the 9/11 terrorists, these plotters are middle class "stateless" terrorists, driven for whatever reason from their homelands, feeling aggrieved, rootless except for connection to a radicalized ideology. A Reuters story of (7/2/07) was headlined, "Seven suspects detained over British bomb plot." It identified the second doctor in question as Iranian. To quote,

Police declined to identify any of the people under arrest. British newspapers said two were doctors -- one an Iranian who worked at North Staffordshire Hospital in central England. A spokeswoman at the hospital declined to comment.

Terrorists succeed when we become terrified as a result of their actions. In this case officials all over the world are deciding at what level of terror alertness under which they should operate. Wisely, they are generally not over-reacting. But that is only because of the lack of success of the doctors and their cohorts. That is indeed sad, ironic and scary, but not terrifying.
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