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'Al-Qaeda bought nuclear weapons'

rediff International Affairs Bureau | March 22, 2004 13:15 IST

Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir, Osama bin Laden's biographer and occasional rediff.com columnist, has claimed in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation television network that Al Qaeda has bought ready-made nuclear weapons from Central Asia's thriving black market.


The claim confirms what American intelligence agencies have known all along -- that Al Qaeda was trying to acquire nuclear weapons on the black market.


Mir told the ABC network that the claim was made in an interview with Ayman al-Zawahri, the number 2 man in Al Qaeda.


Parts of Mir's interview with the network were released on Sunday. There has been no announcement so far as to when the interview between him and al-Zawahri took place.


The Egyptian terrorist is currently being targeted by Pakistani security forces.


When Mir told the Al Qaeda leader that he found it incredible that the terrorists could either possess nuclear weapons or have the kind of sophisticated equipment to maintain, leave alone use them, the journalist recalled al-Zawahri laughing out loud.


'Mr Mir, if you have $30 million, go to the black market in Central Asia, contact any disgruntled Soviet scientist, and a lot of smart briefcase bombs are available,' he quotd al-Zawahri as saying. 'They have contacted us, we sent our people to Moscow, to Tashkent, to other Central Asian states and they negotiated, and we purchased some suitcase bombs.'

Describing al-Zawahri as 'the real brain behind Osama bin Laden,' the Pakistani journalist told the network that the former was the 'real strategist, bin Laden is only a front man. I think he is more dangerous [than Laden].'

al-Zawahri, an Egyptian surgeon, is believed to have played a major role in the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

Intelligence agencies believe he is hiding in the region around the Pakistan-Afghanistan border where American and Pakistani forces are currently conducting a major offensive against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

Mir's claim comes on the heels of revelations last month that Pakistan scientists sold nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea.

More shocking for the Australian government is al-Zawahri's claim, in the interview with Mir, that he had visited Australia on a reconnaissance mission for both funds and young recruits. 'He told me he stopped for a while in Darwin [in northern Australia],' Mir said.


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