July 03, 2007 12:00am
AN Indian doctor hired by the Queensland government and regarded as a "model citizen" has been arrested over the UK's foiled terror plot, with a second foreign doctor from the same hospital also being quizzed. The arrest of the Gold Coast Hospital registrar, as he tried to leave the country on a one-way ticket, has raised serious concerns about vetting procedures for the federal government's temporary skilled visa program, under which he was working. The ABC has named the man as Mohammed Haneef, citing Queensland government records which show he was registered with the state health department as a temporary worker. The 27-year-old Indian national had been employed at the hospital as a junior doctor on a temporary visa since last September after being recruited by the Beattie government from Liverpool, in north-west England, under a much-hyped overseas recruitment drive. He was hired under the federal government's 457 visa program, which allows migrant workers to come to Australia for temporary employment when vacancies cannot be filled locally.

Haneef's arrest by counter-terrorism police at Brisbane Airport late last night followed a tip-off from British police. No charges have been laid. A second doctor from the Gold Coast Hospital, who was also recruited from Liverpool, was being questioned tonight, but had not been arrested.

"The identity of that second person arose from the discussion that occurred with the first person taken into custody," Prime Minister John Howard said. Haneef is the eighth person arrested over the foiled terror plot, and the first taken into custody outside Britain. British authorities say their investigations are developing minute by minute, as they hunt for those behind the plot to detonate two car bombs left in central London early on Friday and an attack on Glasgow airport in Scotland on Saturday using a fuel-laden jeep. British media have reported that six of the seven people arrested in Britain over the plot are doctors working in the National Health Service. Reports have said all are foreign nationals but police have refused to confirm this.

Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty said the arrested man had not been on any Australian watch lists, and information about him had been obtained by British authorities at the weekend. Queensland and federal police are believed to have seized a laptop after executing four search warrants on the man's home, his car, an area near the hospital, and at the hospital itself. Queensland Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson said no explosive material had been found during the searches. But it is understood emails have been seized. Mr Howard, who plans to speak to new British Prime Minister Gordon Brown later this week, would not say whether British authorities had asked for the arrested man to be extradited. He and Queensland Premier Peter Beattie appealed to people not to panic, saying there was no evidence of any terrorist plot against Australia.

"There is nothing in what has happened in the United Kingdom which in and of itself suggests that there is a greater danger of there being any terrorist incident in Australia," Mr Howard said. He urged the public to keep an open mind about the pair, saying neither had been charged with any offence. But he warned Australians not to drop their guard, as the incidents in London and Glasgow demonstrated a terrorist strike remained a possibility.
"We should not be complacent; there are people in our midst who would do us harm and evil if they had the opportunity of doing so," he said.

It is understood Haneef was headed for India, via the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, on a one-way air ticket when he was arrested at Brisbane airport, but had not resigned his job. Mr Beattie said he was recruited in March last year via an advertisement in the British Medical Journal and started work six months later. He worked in the general and emergency areas of the hospital as a junior doctor under supervision of other doctors. Mr Beattie said the arrested doctor was regarded by the hospital as a "model citizen". "It's really important that everybody understands that while we have recruited overseas doctors, 99.9 per cent of them are good citizens who are working very hard," he said.

A Muslim news website reported that a doctor arrested in Liverpool may have been confused with Haneef. Federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said no change had been made to Australia's terror alert level, which remained at medium.