July 3, 2007 — -- For many people in England the reassuring ideal of the British doctor who is trusted, skilled and honored will never be the same.
All eight of those arrested so far in the failed plot to kill on a mass scale using car bombs in London and at Glasgow Airport were members of the medical community, and outside London's Charing Cross Hospital, one visitor said he would now suspect his Muslim doctors.
"Yes, I would think about it same as if you were getting on a plane now and one of them is there," said Alan Pierce. "You think about it, don't you?"
To combat a shortage of doctors and health care professionals in the country, the British government hired foreigners, adding more than 20,000 in the last three years alone.
Investigators are now asking if these alleged plotters were recruited in the United Kingdom or if they were part of a sophisticated scheme, with al Qaeda recruiting them overseas before sending them to Britain.
"It's been proven after study after study in the Arab world that large numbers of people who are in these Islamist networks are people who have a technical, medical background who have no understanding of what it means to have a religious rooting in scripture," said author and activist Ed Hussain.
And al Qaeda has its own medical pedigree, as Osama bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is a pediatrician. Radical Islam has also long had a strong appeal to some young, professional Muslims.
Still, it was simply unimaginable to Britons that doctors, traditionally trained to heal and do no harm, could plot to blow up two cars in London, or attack an airport.
"It appears to be a dastardly plot to have a group of doctors. However, it's a continuation of al Qaeda techniques, because it is relying on our trust, it is playing on our vulnerabilities and our weaknesses because we trust doctors," said security analyst Sally Leivesley.
Britons now question whether their government has been too relaxed in background checks for foreign doctors -- a charge health service officials deny.
"The question, I guess for our policymakers here is, are the checks that we undertake rigorous enough? I believe, and I represent employers, that they are extensive and they're robust," said Sian Thomas of the National Health Service.
But that is an issue sure to be debated in the aftermath of this plot.