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Friday, 31 January, 2003, 00:13 GMT
Al-Qaeda 'was making dirty bomb'
Merseyside decontamination unit
Government says its evidence proves dirty bomb threat

British officials have presented evidence which they claim shows that al-Qaeda had been trying to assemble radioactive material to build a so-called dirty bomb.

They have shown the BBC previously undisclosed material backing up their claim.

It includes secret intelligence from agents sent by Britain into al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan.

Posing as recruits, they blended in and reported back.

Herat
Al-Qaeda has built a lab in Herat

They revealed that Osama Bin Laden's weapons programme was further on than anyone thought.

British officials said on Thursday Bin Laden now had gained the expertise and possibly the materials to build a crude radioactive bomb.

The government says evidence suggests that by 1999, Bin Laden's priority was to develop a weapon of mass destruction.

He had acquired radioactive isotopes from the Taleban to do this, officials said, adding that development work on the "dirty bomb" had been going on in a nuclear laboratory in the Afghan city of Herat.

Evidence 'credible'

The government even has al-Qaeda training manuals which detail how to use a dirty bomb to maximum effect.

For a second opinion, the BBC showed some of the material to an expert on al-Qaeda.

"I think this is genuine," said Dr Mustafa Alani, of the Royal United Service Institute.

From nuclear weapons the threat is very, very slim

Gary Samore
"It is credible. This is proof that al-Qaeda put a lot of effort into collecting information and educating other members of the organisation.

"It is possible to produce this sort of weapon."

British military personnel worked with intelligence officers to gather material which was taken to Porton Down defence research centre in Wiltshire.

Their conclusion was that al-Qaeda had a small dirty bomb but probably not a full blown nuclear device.

"From nuclear weapons the threat is very, very slim," said Gary Samore, a former US National Security Council member.

Prof Paul Wilkinson
Prof Wilkinson says chemical attack is possible
To create one, he said, al-Qaeda would have needed to obtain weapons grade nuclear material - a difficult prospect.

"On the other hand, the threat of a dirty bomb or radiological bomb, is much more plausible," he added.

British officials say the "bomb" has never been recovered but at least one leading al-Qaeda weapons expert from Herat is still at large.

Why the British government would release such top secret information has been questioned by some commentators in the Arabic world.

Abdel Bari Atwan, the editor of Al Quds al Arabi, said it was an attempt to revive fears in Britain and the US about 11 September.

"They would like to prove their point that there are links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda," he said.


Key stories

European probe

Background

IN DEPTH
See also:

01 Nov 02 | England
30 Oct 02 | Politics
09 Sep 02 | Americas
03 Jul 02 | Politics
08 Nov 02 | Politics
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