Nuclear scientists question on aid they gave bin Laden

Wednesday, November 28, 2001

Associated Press WriterISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) -- Pakistani investigators are interrogating two nuclear scientists about whether they helped Osama bin Laden make chemical weapons with anthrax, security and intelligence officials said Wednesday.

Six Pakistani officials, all of whom are involved in the investigation, told The Associated Press they have no direct evidence that the scientists were working on anthrax weapons, but that information from U.S. sources in Afghanistan raised their suspicions.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity.

Sultan Bashir-ud-Din Mehmood and Abdul Majid, both of whom worked for Pakistan's Atomic Energy Commission until retiring in 1999, made several trips to Afghanistan and met with bin Laden, but say they were simply doing charity work.

The government refused to comment on a possible anthrax connection. The top government spokesman, Gen. Rashid Quereshi, said only that the scientists are suspected of violating rules that apply to government scientists even after retirement, and of violating travel restrictions.

He said he could give no further details of the investigation until it is complete.

The two scientists were arrested on Oct. 23 in the eastern border city of Lahore. Authorities said last week that they had been released, but Quereshi said Tuesday that the scientists were brought in for further interrogation. No charges have been filed.

The security and intelligence officials said that during the first round of questioning, the scientists had concealed some facts and avoided questions that made them suspicious.

Pakistan asked the U.S.-led coalition to do some checking in Afghanistan, and the reports from those operatives led them to bring the scientists back in for further questioning, the officials said.

They said Pakistan is sharing details of the interrogation with investigators from coalition countries.

The information from Afghanistan included details of the men's ties to the Taliban Agriculture Ministry, which officials suspect of research into chemical weapons including anthrax. The officials gave no further details of the scientists' possible involvement.

The scientists traveled to neighboring Afghanistan several times after their retirement and met bin Laden on two occasions, government officials have said.

The scientists have said they visited Afghanistan on behalf of a charity organization that helped farmers and students. They deny passing nuclear secrets to Afghanistan's now-retreating Taliban regime or to bin Laden.

Officials in Pakistan, which conducted its first underground nuclear bomb tests in 1998, say there is nothing to suggest they revealed nuclear secrets to anyone in Afghanistan.

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