NBC Weapons: December 12, 2001


Gul Nazir and Ahmed Massoud, two chemistry professors at Kabul University, described to Western intelligence a series of efforts by the Taliban government, and by Pakistani scientists, to recruit them to work on programs to build chemical weapons or purify heroin. During August of this year, the Taliban government asked them and other professors to set up a uranium mining and extraction program and were told funds would be made available no matter what the program cost. A delegation from Taliban Defense Minister Mullah Obaidullah offered to pay to renovate their laboratories if they would then conduct experiments in chemical weapons. The Taliban asked the professors to help them buy large quantities of sodium cyanide and thionyl chloride, two chemicals used to produce weapons. Sodium cyanide is used to produce cyanide gas, while thionyl chloride is needed to produce nerve gas and mustard gas. Both could be used for rocket fuel but nobody does this because of the danger in handling the materials and the risk of mass contamination if a rocket exploded on launch. Pakistani Professor Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, who worked on the Pakistani nuclear bomb, admitted meeting bin Laden but said this was only in regards to a charity known as the Foundation for Construction. However, the Kabul office of that charity was found to contain documents and plans related to the design of an anthrax bomb that would be detonated at high altitude from a hot air balloon. Mahmood's contact with bin Laden is seen as more proof that al Qaeda was trying to obtain a nuclear weapon, not that it had succeeded.

The Taliban/al Qaeda chemical weapons program was centered at Farm Hada and the nearby Camp Durunta, but included 40 other sites, camps, and labs. These were run by Midhat (Abu Khabab) Mursi, a chemistry professor who is the brother-in-law of bin Laden. His fate is not known. Dr. Ayman Al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's closest lieutenant, is known to have been directly involved in the search for weapons of mass destruction. Investigation of labs and offices there has shown a lot of interesting things (including collections of news articles about the potential for clandestine production of weapons of mass destruction) but no hard evidence of success. The examination has been complicated by several factors. The Taliban and al Qaeda left their offices in a hurry, and obviously took much with them and destroyed other things in place. Reporters and members of the Northern Alliance got to the offices and looted them before the CIA and Special Forces could get there, and while many of the borrowed items have been located, this has complicated the investigations. There are pages and pages of notes about formulae for explosives and for chemical weapons, but no way to tell if a scientist was just theorizing what could be done, or if these were instructions for an established production program.

Two reporters (Julio Fuentes of Spain and Maria Grazia Cutili of Italy) found test tubes full of clear liquid marked SARIN in Russia but these were lost when the two were killed in an ambush and no one can confirm that the containers existed or what was really in them. Other reports indicate that renegade Russians helped al Qaeda produce at least some low-grade anthrax. Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, a Pakistani scientist, had a home in Kabul. US investigators found hundreds of documents related to anthrax left behind when he fled.

The center for terrorism training seems to be the al Qaeda camp at Topai Tajbek, south of Kabul. Here, thousands of Pakistanis, Chechens, Arabs, North Africans, Uzbeks, and Chinese Moslems were trained in bomb making, suicide attacks, hostage taking, and hijacking. The complex includes 34 deep tunnels which are now being searched.

Captured documents show that it was Arab hard line Wahabis who talked the Taliban government into destroying the two statues of Buddah at Bamiyan. One captured Taliban official spoke of al Qaeda with disgust, noting that a third of the country's military supplies went to the units controlled by al Qaeda. The al Qaeda foreigners (known as "the Arabs" even if some were in fact Chechens) were resented in Afghanistan because they had more money. In a country where most people walked and a few road wagons or horses, "the Arabs" had Japanese pickup trucks. Low-level members of al Qaeda bragged on the Kabul streets that they had brought the US to its knees and would soon force Britain to its knees as well.--Stephen V Cole


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