Agents for the Taliban and Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network contacted at least ten Pakistani nuclear scientists for help in starting a nuclear weapons program inside Afghanistan, the newspaper USA Today reported Monday, quoting senior US and Pakistani officials.
Several of the Pakistani scientists -- which included sympathizers of Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia -- accepted the offers, but said they would work only with Pakistani government approval, US officials with direct knowledge of the offers told the paper.
The offers were made in Pakistan within the past two years and were in the "early stages," Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency told the paper.
Only one of the scientists had traveled to Afghanistan since the offers were made, ISI officials told the paper.
US officials on Sunday cast doubts over terror suspect bin Laden's claim to possess nuclear weapons, but did say he was trying to get such means of mass destruction and would not hesitate to use them.
Top US officials also said it was likely that bin Laden, who is blamed for the September 11 terrorist attacks, had chemical and biological weapons.
"I think it's unlikely he has a nuclear weapon," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on CBS, adding that he "certainly wants them, there's no question."
National security advisor Condoleezza Rice said the US administration was nevertheless taking bin Laden's claim seriously.
"We have no credible evidence that he has them at this point in time but we're not going to take any chances," she said on CNN.
On Saturday at the United Nations, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf assured the world that his country's nuclear arsenal is in "safe hands," rejecting concern that its weapons could fall under the control of terrorists or radical Islamic groups -- AFP
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