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Atom Scientists Talked To Bin Laden

The Washington Post cites Pakistani sources as saying two retired Pakistani nuclear scientists have told investigators they spent time with Osama bin Laden this summer, and held long talks with the terror suspect about nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

The Post reports the two met with bin Laden in the Afghan capital of Kabul in August. Pakistani officials characterized the meeting as "academic" and can't say if it led to the creation of any weapons.

The two scientists have been undergoing questioning at an undisclosed location for two months.

Click Here for Complete CoverageOfficials in Islamabad say Pakistani officials are considering charging the two with violating the national official secrets act.

The scientists' reported admission is a reversal from their earlier claims that they met with bin Laden to discuss charity work.

They were first detained Oct. 23. Since then, Sultan Bashir-ud-Din Mehmood and Abdul Majid have been detained and released several times, and questioned about their links to the Taliban.

Mehmood, who played a key role in developing Pakistan's nuclear program, is head of a non-governmental organization that is trying to help rehabilitate Afghanistan and stimulate its economy.

Mehmood's aid organization, Tameer-e-Ummah, had operated inside Afghanistan with the backing of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.

The international community is concerned about the security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons because of fears that some elements in the military remain sympathetic to the Taliban.

The latest on the war in Afghanistan.

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf has repeatedly insisted that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is safe, and officials have said they did not suspect any nuclear information has been leaked to the Taliban.

Reliable sources tell Eurasianet — widely regarded as an informed source for news and analysis on central and South Asia — that between eight and 12 suspects had been contacted by Taliban and al-Qaida representatives, who offered lucrative incentives for the scientists to work on a "nuclear research program" inside Afghanistan.

American officials reportedly possess "convincing evidence" that the Taliban and bin Laden were trying to work on a secret nuclear project.

The Taliban ambassador to Pakistan in early November dismissed reports that they already possessed small nuclear weapons. He told CBS News, "We don't have the talent to make a nuclear bomb."

A source says U.S. officials believe that the al-Qaida nuclear project was perhaps at a very early stage of development, and they see little reason to believe reports of a presence or even production of nuclear weapons by the Afghanistan-based errorist group.

Pakistan, the world's newest nuclear power, conducted underground nuclear explosions in May 1998 following similar tests by India. Pakistan says the tests were vital to maintain the strategic balance between the two rival nations, which have fought three wars since they were carved out of British India in 1947.

Pakistan is believed to have at least two dozen nuclear warheads which can be delivered by intermediate range missiles.

Tensions in Pakistan and in its armed forces raise questions about whether Pakistan's nuclear arms could fall into the wrong hands.

© MMI, CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Eurasianet and the Associated Press contributed to this report

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