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Pakistani nuclear scientist confesses to sharing secrets

Abdul Qadeer Khan confessed Sunday to trading nuclear technology to Iran, Libya, and North Korea.

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Pakistan's chief nuclear scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, has confessed to sharing nuclear technology with Iran, Libya, and North Korea in a 12-page document presented to President Pervez Musharraf, according to a briefing given by government officials in Islamabad.

News of the confession followed a decision to dismiss Mr. Khan from his government post on Saturday by the nuclear command authority, a grouping of top military and political officials supervising the probe.

The confession will bolster the government's hand should it decide in the coming days to prosecute Khan - a popular figure who combines the brilliance of Albert Einstein with the nationalist fervor of John Wayne.

"During investigations, Khan said we wanted some other Muslim countries to develop nuclear technology, so pressure on Pakistan could be lessened," says an official close to the investigation. When it was pointed out that North Korea is not a Muslim country, Khan "could not give a specific answer," says the source.

The fate of Khan and other suspects in the probe lies with the nuclear command authority. The options are said to include a military court, a special tribunal, or administrative action. Putting a national hero on trial would be a risky move for Mr. Musharraf, and one that could have far-reaching political implications in a nation that is already sensitive about protecting its sovereignty.

Official sources say the bank accounts of Khan and other suspected individuals have been closely monitored; all suspects are barred from traveling abroad.

Pakistan's covert nuclear program generated controversy last November when the International Atomic Energy Agency probing Iran's nuclear program found evidence that some Pakistani scientists might have aided the neighboring country in its developing nuclear program.

Western intelligence sources say Pakistani scientists also traded uranium enrichment with North Korea and Libya in separate deals.

Sources say the international nuclear body provided the list of at least five scientists and officials associated with the Kahuta Research Laboratories (KRL), a uranium enrichment plant headed by Khan from 1976 to 2001, located just outside the capital city of Islamabad.

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