your connection to The Boston Globe

Britain tightens checks on foreign doctors

LONDON -- With eight suspects in last weekend's attempted car-bomb attacks in custody, all of them foreign doctors or other medical professionals, Britain reduced its terrorism threat level from critical to severe yesterday and Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced more rigorous background checks on foreign doctors applying for visas to work in the United Kingdom.

In Baghdad, a prominent British cleric said that a man he met in April, who turned out to be a Sunni insurgent, told him of his plans to kill Britons and Americans and warned, "Those who cure you will kill you." Canon Andrew White, who said the man seemed like "the devil," said he reported the meeting to British Foreign Office officials.

A Foreign Office spokesman said yesterday that White did not mention the specific sentence about "those who cure you" but simply reported a "general tirade" against the West that "didn't merit further analysis." In light of the medical aspects of the attacks on London and Glasgow, the Foreign Office spokesman said the incident has been passed along to Scotland Yard, where detectives are working to determine whether the suspects, including two Iraqi doctors, plotted the attack by themselves or with assistance from Al Qaeda or other international extremists.

A British security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that information related to "some, but not all" of the suspects appears in British security databases kept on suspected terrorists. The official said none of the suspects had been the subject of a previous investigation, and none had been seen in surveillance of other suspected extremists. The official would not specify what information about the suspects appeared in the databases, but said that it "could have included things such as a name, telephone number, e-mail address, or nom de guerre."

"We are still trying to determine how did they come together, what overseas linkages there are, and whether they are significant or incidental," the official said, adding that investigators were studying the significance of the suspects' being medical professionals working in British hospitals.

"Right now we don't know if their profession has played a part in this or not. What we have learned from experience is that there is no profile for the type of person who becomes a terrorist."