Pakistan scientist in nuclear confession

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The Independent Online

The Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of the Islamic bomb, has confessed to sharing nuclear secrets with states such as North Korea, Iran and Libya in the dying days of the Cold War.

The revelation could lead to Pakistan becoming part of the United States's independent investigation into intelligence failures before the Iraq war. President George Bush said the inquiry would have a broader mandate than Iraq. "We also want to look at our war against proliferation and weapons of mass destruction in a broader context," Mr Bush said.

Pakistan's President, General Pervez Musharraf, sacked Dr Khan from his special advisory post on Saturday. Speculation is high that Dr Khan, who produced Pakistan's first weapon of mass destruction, will be held accountable for his million-dollar nuclear side-deals once the Muslim holidays end on Thursday.

Dr Khan, as well as three military officers and three scientists, is under scrutiny for trading the state's nuclear expertise with Libya, Iran and North Korea from 1987 until the mid 1990s. He is said to have confessed in a written statement to leaking nuclear "drawings and machinery".

Authorities in Islamabad say they have traced a money trail - including foreign bank accounts believed to belong to Dr Khan - to Dubai and several other cities in the United Arab Emirates. His black market trading partners allegedly came from Sri Lanka, Germany, the Netherlands and South Africa. There are suggestions that Dr Khan set up front companies so that he could market the stolen expertise to the highest bidder.

Dr Khan owns four houses in Islamabad, a holiday home, shares in two restaurants, and a hotel in Timbuktu, Mali. His 12-page confession was presented to General Musharraf on Sunday.

Conservative clerics have urged General Musharraf not to press charges against Dr Khan, who is considered a national hero. Yet General Musharraf wants Washington to believe that he is willing to stop nuclear weapons technology. The Pakistani President sacked Dr Khan as director of the Khan Research Laboratories in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 11 September.

During a dinner party hosted by Dr Khan on 17 January, authorities arrested Dr Khan's personal assistant, Islam ul-Haq, his chief engineer, Muhammad Nazir, and others.

FBI agents were reportedly present at some of the confessions made by Dr Khan.

Mohammad Farooq, the former director general of Khan Research Laboratories, gave the most damaging testimony and is also implicated in the the sharing of nuclear secrets.

The US has accused Pakistan of trading nuclear technology with North Korea as recently as August 2002, a charge denied by Islamabad.