Iran Nuclear NewsCIA says Iran, Qaeda pursued nuclear weapons

CIA says Iran, Qaeda pursued nuclear weapons

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Reuters: Iran “vigorously” pursued programs to produce nuclear, chemical and biological weapons during the latter part of 2003 and was working to improve delivery systems, a CIA report said on Tuesday. Reuters

By Tabassum Zakaria

WASHINGTON – Iran “vigorously” pursued programs to produce nuclear, chemical and biological weapons during the latter part of 2003 and was working to improve delivery systems, a CIA report said on Tuesday.

Al Qaeda was also engaged in rudimentary nuclear research, the CIA said, and the network’s stated willingness to launch an unconventional attack was a major concern.

The unclassified semi-annual report to Congress on the acquisition of technology relating to weapons of mass destruction from July 1 through Dec. 31, 2003, was posted on the intelligence agency’s Web site www.cia.gov.

“Iran’s nuclear program received significant assistance in the past from the proliferation network headed by Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan,” the CIA report said.

Khan’s network provided Iran with designs for Pakistan’s older centrifuges and for more advanced and efficient models, and components, the report said.

Iran was trying to improve delivery systems and sought foreign materials, training and equipment from Russia, China, North Korea, and Europe, it said.

Last week Iran denied allegations by an exiled opposition group that it obtained weapons-grade uranium and a nuclear bomb design from Khan, the father of Pakistan’s atomic bomb.

The United States believes Iran has been pursuing a secret nuclear weapons program and has tried to convince the international community of those concerns.

TERRORISM THREAT HIGH

“One of our highest concerns is al Qaeda’s stated readiness to attempt unconventional attacks against us,” the report said. Osama bin Laden and other leaders have said it was al Qaeda’s religious duty to acquire nuclear weapons, the CIA said.

Documents recovered in Afghanistan showed that al Qaeda “was engaged in rudimentary nuclear research, although the extent of its indigenous program is unclear,” it said.

Pakistani nuclear engineer Bashir al-Din Mahmood, who reportedly met with bin Laden, “may have provided some assistance to al Qaeda’s program,” the report said.

“In addition, we are alert to the very real possibility that al Qaeda or other terrorist groups might also try to launch conventional attacks against the chemical or nuclear industrial infrastructure of the United States to cause panic and economic disruption,” the CIA report said.

Several groups associated with al Qaeda planned attacks in Europe with easily produced chemicals and toxins best suited to assassination and small-scale scenarios, the CIA said.

Documents recovered in Afghanistan show al Qaeda has crude procedures for making mustard agent, sarin, and VX nerve agent, and had conducted research on biological agents. “We believe al Qaeda’s BW (biological warfare) program is primarily focused on anthrax for mass casualty attacks,” the report said.

The CIA report also said that information from 2003 detailed the construction of a “terrorist cyanide-based chemical weapon” that could be made with easily available items and required little training to assemble and deploy.

“Such a device could produce a lethal concentration of poisonous gases in an enclosed area,” the CIA said.

The proliferation behavior of Chinese companies remained of “great concern” but China had taken some positive steps, the report said. In September 2003, China stopped a shipment of chemicals at the China-North Korea border that could have been used in North Korea’s nuclear program, the report said.

North Korea had approached Western European entities for assistance with its uranium enrichment program, and “a shipment of aluminum tubing — enough for 4,000 centrifuge tubes — was halted by German authorities,” the report said.

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