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Sudan Plant: Murder or Medicine?

It has been about a week since American cruise missiles hit their target in Sudan with pinpoint accuracy, imploding the production wings of the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant, reports CBS News Correspondent Vicki Mabrey.

But the ruins still smolder, days after the bombing, and there are thousands of bottles and pill packages. Sudan points to them as evidence that the factory only made antibiotics and painkillers for humans and animals.

Sudan denies the targeted factory was involved in the production of nerve gas, but U.S. officials say there is no doubt. U.S. intelligence officials say a soil sample secretly taken from the vicinity of the pharmaceutical plant contained a chemical compound known as EMPTA. Its only known use is to make nerve gas, which is what convinced the Clinton administration to target the plant in last week's cruise missile attacks.

Meanwhile, one chemical weapons expert says flatly, "Soil samples don't lie."

Amy Smithson (CBS)
Amy Smithson, a chemical and biological nonproliferation expert, tells CBS 'This Morning' Co-Anchor Jane Robelot: "We're not talking about a situation where this plant is accused of making huge quantities [of chemical weapons]. Not the type of quantities that would be needed to contaminate a battlefield, but a situation where they are making a little bit, a few gallons."

For the purposes of terrorists, Smithson explains, a "little bit" would go a long way. She says, "They don't need a great dealÂ…to injure dozens - if not hundreds or thousands - of citizens who don't have protective gear."

U.S. intelligence officials say they had been watching the site for two years and had detected contacts between plant officials and Iraqi chemical weapons experts. They say the plant may well have turned out legitimate medicines as a cover, but it belonged to the Sudanese military industrial complex, an organization to which Osama bin Laden has contributed money.

Although the Sudanese government has opened the site of the bombed-out factory to journalists, Smithson says it would be difficult for the untrained visitor to determine whether chemical weapons were being manufactured there.

Smithson says EMPTA is used only as a precursor for chemical agents; EMPTA has no commercial use, as far as she knows. "Why, then, would the chemical be at the Al-Shifa plant, if not for covert manufacture of chemical precursors?" she says.

Allegations that Sudan has been involved in chemical weapons manufacture and use are not new, says Smithson, adding, "Thee have been charges that the Iraqi government has been providing assistance to this program."

To settle the current dispute between the U.S. and Sudan, Smithson suggests that "we should take the Sudanese government up on their invitation to bring in an international inspection team [to look at the destroyed factory]. Sudan has not joined the Chemical Weapons Convention, which bans these [chemical] agents and weapons, and there is a new inspection agency in the Hague which could carry out these inspections and settle the matter."