At least one of the men arrested in the foiled London bomb plot and the explosive attack on Glasgow's airport had been in recent contact with al Qaeda in Iraq, it was reported yesterday.
The discovery has fueled speculation that the suspects - under orders from the terror network's Iraq operation - wanted to punish outgoing British PM Tony Blair for his country's role in the war, according to the Sunday Times of London.
It also meshes with an British intelligence report from earlier this year that said al Qaeda wanted to launch an attack around the time of Blair's departure.
A senior Iraqi al Qaeda commander "stressed the need to take care to ensure the attack was successful and on a large scale," the report said, acknowledging that "AQ-I [al Qaeda in Iraq] . . . networks are active in the U.K."
The revelation came as the first of eight people arrested in connection with the twin terror plots made a court appearance in London - on the second anniversary of the July 7, 2005, bus and subway bombings that killed 52 people in the heart of the city.
Bilal Abdullah, 27, stared straight ahead and said nothing but his name and date of birth during the brief hearing in which the charges against him were read
Lawyers for the stocky, unshaven doctor - who was born in Britain and raised in Iraq - did not seek bail.
Abdullah, who worked at a Glasgow-area hospital, is accused of helping to plan both the London and Scotland strikes and being in the fuel-laden Jeep Cherokee that smashed into the main terminal of the busy airport.
Abdulla lived in a comfortable two-story home on a pleasant street in a Glasgow suburb, where investigators now suspect he and the Jeep's driver, Kafeel Ahmed, may have assembled bombs.
Neighbors said they rarely saw the occupants of the house, although one neighbor said she saw a man washing a Jeep Cherokee there a few hours before the airport attack.
The neighbor said she thought that was odd, because it was raining.
"People are shocked. Doctors, consultants and surgeons live around here," said Jeff Heath, who works at Paul's fish and chips shop near Abdulla's home.
"But I guess that makes it an ideal place to hide."
Ahmed, remains in critical condition after dousing himself with gasoline and setting himself ablaze during the June 30 mayhem. He was so badly burned that his cellphone melted into his body, the Sunday Times of London reported.
Included among the other six suspects is Ahmed's brother Sabeel, 26, an Indian doctor arrested in Liverpool.
Two other detainees are doctors who tried to get work in the United States. Mohammed Asha, 26, who was arrested in England, and Muhammad Haneef, who was busted trying to leave Australia, applied to a Philadelphia organization that places foreign doctors in U.S. hospitals, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Neither doctor took entrance tests, officials told the newspaper.
The other three suspects are Asha's 26-year-old wife Marwa and two men - aged 25 and 28 - who worked at the same hospital as Abdullah.
Yesterday, British officials stepped up security for the day's July 7 events, as well as Wimbledon and the Tour de France, which started yesterday in London.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown and other government officials laid down flowers and wreaths at a memorial garden for the victims of the bombings, which were detonated on three subway trains and a double-decker bus.
"The bombers tried to divide us and they failed," said London Mayor Ken Livingstone. With Post Wire Services