LONDON - British police arrested a fifth person yesterday and raided homes in three cities in connection with attempted car bombings officials said are connected to al-Qaida.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who took over from Tony Blair on Wednesday, said "we are dealing, in general terms, with people who are associated with al-Qaida."
Brown's first days in office have been a baptism by fire, with three soldiers killed Thursday in Iraq, two car bombs foiled in London on Friday and a fiery attack on Scotland's Glasgow Airport Saturday. In a nationally televised interview, he warned the British public yesterday they faced "a long-term threat" from radical Islamists.
The attacks appeared timed to press the new government to move further and faster in distancing itself from Blair's wholehearted support of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, analysts said. "It was an obvious attempt to destabilize the government and to get the government to withdraw troops from Iraq," said Patrick Dunleavy, political analyst at the London School of Economics.
Previous plots have been focused on London, so the Glasgow Airport assault in particular reinforced a belief among officials and counterterrorism experts that the attacks were designed to correspond with the ascension of Brown, a Scotsman.
Three days after police stumbled upon the first of what would be three attempted car bombs around Britain, the investigation was moving swiftly but growing more complicated. By early yesterday, police had arrested five people, none of whom they said privately, was British-born. Two were reported by local media to be doctors employed at British hospitals.
If that turns out to be true, it will be a sharp departure from the past two summers in which home-grown terrorists were held responsible - first for the deadly mass transit attacks of July 7, 2005, the unsuccessful attacks two weeks later, and finally the plot to blow up trans-Atlantic commercial jets broken up at this time last summer.
New clues were surfacing almost hourly, and links between the London and Glasgow incidents were "becoming clearer," said counterterrorism chief Peter Clarke, briefing reporters in Glasgow.
Police found the first car bomb early Friday morning, after emergency medical personnel were called to a London nightclub where a young man had fallen and hurt himself. While there, they noticed smoke coming from a car parked nearby. A police bomb squad disarmed the car bomb, packed with gas and gasoline canisters, and nails to cause maximum injury.
That set off a search for other cars, and one was found in a police towing lot, where officers had noticed a strong smell of gasoline coming from an illegally parked car.
"At that point, the attack on the Glasgow Airport appears to be the desperate act of people who believe time is running out before they're caught," said Magnus Ranstorp, chief scientist at the Swedish Defense College. He added, however, that the men who rammed their flaming vehicle through the glass of the airport terminal, poured gasoline on themselves, and shouted "Allah Akbar" (God is Great) as they burned and resisted arrest, showed intense commitment.
British police moved quickly. Two men were arrested from the burning Jeep Cherokee at Glasgow Airport - one with burns over 90 percent of his body. Another two - reported to be a 26-year-old doctor and a 27-year-old woman - were arrested yesterday after a high-speed chase on the M-6 highway near Liverpool. And the fifth was arrested in central Liverpool yesterday.
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