Pakistan fires top adviser to nuclear arms program

National hero suspected of selling secrets for profit

February 01, 2004|By Paul Watson | Paul Watson,LOS ANGELES TIMES

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Pakistan's government fired the father of its atomic bomb, Abdul Qadeer Khan, from his job as a top-level adviser yesterday amid increasing suspicion that he sold nuclear weapons technology to Iran and Libya.

The government did not say whether it is considering further action against Khan, who is idolized as a national hero for making Pakistan the Islamic world's only nuclear-armed country. Khan's home was under military guard last night, and family friends said the scientist was under house arrest.

According to news reports quoting anonymous intelligence sources, Khan, 69, is suspected of amassing a fortune worth millions of dollars in property and overseas bank accounts by selling nuclear weapons secrets on the black market. He has denied any wrongdoing.

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf has vowed to punish "with an iron hand" anyone who leaked nuclear weapons secrets to foreign governments. He is also facing growing opposition to his close alliance with the United States and would risk a widespread backlash if he prosecuted someone as popular as Khan.

The interrogation of Khan and other nuclear scientists, which began more than two months ago, has sparked daily protests from many groups, including the mainstream secular opposition, Islamist political parties, and even the national lawyers association.

A brief government statement yesterday said only that Khan "has ceased to hold the office" of special adviser to the prime minister for the strategic program, a Cabinet-level position.

A man who answered the phone at Khan's residence last night said, "I cannot tell you anything, whether Dr. Khan is here or not." A military spokesman said only that Khan's security had been enhanced.

Before his dismissal yesterday, Khan's family had said he was under "virtual house arrest" because he was allowed to work at his office at the prime minister's secretariat, but could not leave Islamabad.

The move yesterday came amid the "investigation into alleged acts of nuclear proliferation by a few individuals and to facilitate those investigations in a free and objective manner," the government statement said.

The government began detaining Pakistan's nuclear scientists at the start of December after United Nations inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency found evidence of Pakistani involvement in Iran's nuclear program.

Libya also said it had received Pakistani help. And U.S. officials have said that satellites spotted Pakistani military aircraft in North Korea in 2002.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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