U.S. analysis finds no sign bin Laden has bomb

February 26, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - An analysis of suspected radioactive substances seized in Afghanistan has found nothing to prove that Osama bin Laden reached his decade-long goal of acquiring nuclear materials for a bomb, administration officials say.

The analysis of suspicious canisters, computer disks and documents conducted by the government suggests, in fact, that bin Laden and al-Qaida were duped by black-market weapons swindlers selling crude containers hand-painted with skulls and crossbones and dipped, perhaps, in medical waste to fool a Geiger counter, officials said.

More than 110 government buildings, military compounds, terrorist camps, safe houses and caves in Afghanistan have been searched for clues about al-Qaida's plans and its development of advanced terror weapons. U.S. intelligence officers and Special Forces found three containers with contents worrisome enough to be shipped back for detailed analysis by nuclear scientists.

No significant amount of radioactive material was found in the containers, two seized at the Taliban Ministry of Agriculture in Kabul and one at an al-Qaida compound in the Kandahar region, officials said.

"We did not find any type of serious radiological material," one Pentagon official said. "The stuff we found in Afghanistan was not the real stuff. They were swindled, like a lot of other people."

Another administration official who has been briefed on the materials said, "Their value for a weapon was zero."

But officials cautioned that it is impossible to make a blanket assertion that al-Qaida possesses no nuclear material.

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