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Khan admits to selling nuke secrets

Islamabad, Feb. 2 (Reuters): The father of Pakistan’s atomic bomb has confessed to selling nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea, but authorities have yet to decide if the national hero will go on trial, officials said today.

Top scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan was sacked as adviser to the Prime Minister on Saturday and is the main suspect in a two-month investigation into allegations that individuals passed on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons secrets to third countries.

Seven suspects are still under investigation, but senior former military and intelligence officials — who experts say must have known about Khan’s activities — are not being questioned.

Putting Khan on trial is a sensitive issue in Pakistan, where he is revered as a national hero and the father of not only the country’s, but the Islamic world’s atomic bomb.

“He (Khan) has admitted these things,” said a military official on condition of anonymity, referring to allegations Khan peddled nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea during the late 1980s and early 1990s.

“It has yet to be decided whether he goes on trial or not.”

Intelligence sources said the evidence against Khan was strong enough to formally charge him, and included a statement from a key middleman in Dubai that could prove damning.

His lavish lifestyle, minutely detailed in the English-language local media, may also be used against him. But western diplomats and analysts say a trial would open a “Pandora’s box” for Pakistan and in particular its powerful military, which was likely to be implicated in any case. The intelligence community also believes Khan’s daughter may have gone abroad with material that could compromise the military. The 69-year-old Khan has been kept under 24-hour watch and has yet to speak publicly since the probe began.

Pakistan launched its investigation more than two months ago after the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, found evidence pointing to Pakistani involvement in Iran’s nuclear programme. Designs used in Libyan and North Korean nuclear programmes are also believed to have come from Pakistan.

The international community hopes the probe will help expose a global network of secret nuclear proliferators amid fears sensitive technology could fall into the hands of terrorists.

The decision to single out Khan marks a major turnaround in Pakistani policy. In January, 2003, the government rushed to his defence, dismissing as “concocted and fabricated speculation” newspaper reports linking him to illegal proliferation.

The widely read Urdu-language press has criticised the handling of the case, and accuses President Pervez Musharraf of blindly following America’s agenda after he supported its war in Afghanistan and vowed to crack down on Islamic militancy.

“Whatever reason the government gives to justify its actions, the nation will consider it a step toward completion of the American agenda in this region,” the Nawa-i-Waqt daily wrote.

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