A Terror Connection in Australia?

  • Share
  • Read Later
The young doctor living in unit 9 of the upmarket apartment block in Southport, a coastal town an hour south of Brisbane, Australia, hardly matched the popular image of a terrorist sympathizer. "He didn't have a beard. He was quietly spoken. He didn't talk about anything. If you had said boo to him he would have fallen over," says Steve Bosher, manager of the building.

But at about 11pm on the night of July 2, Australian Federal Police agents arrested Bosher's tenant, Dr. Mohamed Haneef, at Brisbane's international airport as he attempted to board a flight to Asia on a one-way ticket. The 27-year-old emergency medicine trainee is being held in connection with inquiries into the recent attempted terror attacks in England and Scotland, in which two cars packed with explosives were discovered in central London, while an SUV filled with fuel canisters was driven into a terminal building at Glasgow International Airport. A second doctor, an associate of Haneef's, is also being questioned by authorities in Southport.

Following the arrest, Australian Prime Minister John Howard denied there was any need to raise the country's terror threat above its current 'medium' level, but warned Tuesday that "there are people in our midst who would do us harm and evil, if they ever had the opportunity to do so." Australian Attorney-General Philip Ruddock, meanwhile, ruled out any evidence of plots in Australia connected to the U.K. strikes.

Authorities in the Australian state of Queensland, say there had been no clues that either Haneef or the second man had any association with terrorism. Queensland Premier Peter Beattie, whose Health Department employed Haneef on a special visa in September 2006, said the doctor had responded in March last year to an advertisement in the British Medical Journal for work in Australia. Haneef was working at a hospital in Liverpool, England, at the time and all appropriate checks had been done to confirm his qualifications. "He was a good employee who was interested in learning his emergency duties at the Gold Coast Hospital. He was regarded by the doctors as a model citizen and had excellent references," Beattie told reporters. Haneef earned his qualifications in India; he was engaged to undertake 10 weeks training in emergency medicine before taking up a position at a rural clinic in Queensland.

Bosher, the apartment manager, first learned of Haneef's arrest following a knock on his door about 7.30am Tuesday morning. "It was a group of feds [Australian Federal Police agents], seven of them. I thought it couldn't be [Haneef] and then they showed me the warrant. It said it was in connection with the London bombings," says Bosher, who had rented Haneef the apartment close to the Gold Coast Hospital in September 2006.

Bosher was asked to wait downstairs while the armed officers checked out the simply furnished apartment to ensure it was unoccupied and safe. He says he was then asked to witness the search, and saw the police remove documents, computer discs and a Koran. "The police took away some documents. There were numbers on them. There were discs. It looked like new packets of discs," he says.

The news that Haneef had attempted to leave the country was a surprise to Bosher. "I saw him on Friday. The last thing he said to me was could I come and fix his dishwasher." Haneef had a woman, believed to be his wife, living with him, but recently told Bosher that she had gone back to India. "I asked him but it was long-winded,'' he says. "She used to wear a veil, but not the thing that covered her whole face, just over her hair." Bosher recalls the couple only once having visitors. "The woman [visitor] was wearing a veil," he says. Bosher says he never had any complaints about Haneef apart from a mix-up over a parking space when the doctor first arrived. "I never saw him unless he wanted something. He paid his rent through the Internet," he says.

It's still unknown how, if at all, Haneef is connected to the London attackers. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reported Tuesday that Australian police moved to arrest the doctor after learning that one of the suspects in the U.K. had made a telephone call to Haneef in Australia. While there has been no suggestion that Haneef participated in the attempted attacks, he is the eighth person to be detained in relation to the plot, as authorities have focused their investigation on several foreign-born doctors believed to have played a role. One of the suspects detained in the attack on Glasgow's airport has been identified as Bilal Abdulla, an Iraqi physician. British police have also detained a Jordanian-educated doctor, Mohammed Asha. At least five of the people in custody in the U.K. are believed to be foreign citizens.