Pakistani Nuke Scientists to Face Charges For Al Qaeda Contacts
Sources tell EurasiaNet that the two scientists suspected of violating the Official Secret Acts are Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Abdul Majid, both retired nuclear specialists. They have been in custody for almost two months, and subjected to extensive interrogation by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the CIA. If convicted, the pair face up to a seven-year prison sentence. Mahmood has reportedly suffered breakdowns on several occasions, a source told EurasiaNet.
The source revealed that "initially the main suspected collaborator, Bashiruddin Mahmood denied any such cooperation and made his investigators believe that there was nothing wrong in his cooperation with Osama's men and Taliban officials."
Pakistani officials insist that no potentially sensitive information was compromised, as neither of the two Pakistani scientists had any direct role in the production or processing of nuclear weapons in Pakistan. Some sources said "academic information" was exchanged among Mahmood and Majid and several al Qaeda leaders, including bin Laden, during several meetings in Kabul roughly one month before the September 11 terrorist attacks.
American and Pakistani officials say there is little hard evidence to substantiate claims that Al Qaeda possesses nuclear or chemical weapons. However, American officials stress bin Laden's network was working to develop capacity to carry out attacks involving weapons of mass destruction, and that given more time, the terrorist group might have succeeded. Even now, some International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) experts do not rule out the possibility that al Qaeda may possess a few crude biological weapons.
Mahmood was first questioned by Pakistani intelligence agencies for alleged links with Taliban militia and Osama bin Laden in the third week of October. He was released on October 26 after being "cleared" by security agencies, but was again picked again on October 28 and has remained in detention since then at an unknown location. [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archives]. Mahmood initially gained notoriety in Pakistan after writing several newspaper articles that protested Islamabad's consideration of signing the nuclear Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1998.
US officials reportedly suspect that, in addition to Mahmood and Majid, other Pakistani nuclear experts and military officers had contacts with al Qaeda. Pakistani officials dispute claims of broader collaboration with bin Laden's terrorist organization, labeling such reports as disinformation.
On December 12, Pakistani officials also rejected media reports that claimed the two Pakistani scientist had sought refuge in Myanmar to avoid the probe into their al Qaeda contacts. "This is absolutely false, fabricated news," Maj. Gen. Rashid Qureshi, a spokesman for Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, told a press briefing.
Qureshi said no scientists other than Mahmood and Majid were currently in custody in connection with the investigation into possible al Qaeda links. The spokesman did not exclude the possibility that other scientists might face questioning in the future.