The Bush administration disclosed new details on Thursday that show terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden may know much more about building nuclear weapons than originally thought.
The White House says a Pakistani nuclear scientist met with bin Laden weeks before Sept. 11 and provided detailed information about how to make a nuclear weapon.
The disclosure came in a Rose Garden ceremony marking the 100th day of the US war on terrorism, when President Bush announced steps to cut off financing for two groups linked to terrorists.
One of the groups, known as Umnah Tameer E-nau, or UTN, allegedly provided Osama bin Laden with more than just financial support.
"UTN claims to serve the hungry and needy of Afghanistan, but it was the UTN that provided information about nuclear weapons to al-Qaida," Bush said.
The White House alleges in a fact sheet on UTN that Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, a Pakistani nuclear scientist, met with bin Laden weeks before Sept. 11 and provided detailed information about how to make a nuclear weapon and the effects of a nuclear blast.
US officials told NBC News that a search of UTN offices in Kabul, abandoned last month in the wake of American bombing, turned up large amounts of significant data on nuclear weapons, including computer hard drives and notebooks with far more detail than found on public sites on the Internet.
In one meeting, a bin Laden associate reportedly claimed to have nuclear material and wanted to use it to make a nuclear, or radiological, bomb.
Other documents recovered from UTN in Kabul outlined a plot to kidnap an American attach. US officials believe that kidnap plan may still be active and won't reveal the name of the target.
In Afghanistan and beyond, the search goes on for bin Laden. Intelligence reports indicate one of his sons has said that bin Laden is on the move, back and forth between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Wherever he is, there is still no evidence that he, in fact, has a nuclear weapon.
As for Mahmood, the Pakistani scientist, he is under house arrest in Pakistan and reportedly cooperating with authorities.
TARGETING SUSPECT GROUPS
In his Washington, DC, announcement, Bush targeted UTN and a second group based in Kashmir.
"Today, I'm announcing two more strikes against the financing of terror," Bush said.
The US president said his administration is working with US allies to freeze the financial assets of UTN and the Kashmir group.
Neither group is believed to have assets in the United States, officials said.
Bush said the freeze order also affects three of UTN's directors.
"We're issuing orders to block any of their assets within US jurisdiction, and putting the world on notice that anyone who continues to do business with UTN and its principal figures will not do business with the United States," Bush said.
BUSH CITES KASHMIR GROUP
Bush identified the Kashmir-based group as Lashkar-i-Taiba, or LAT. He condemned the attack on India's parliament last week, but did not draw a direct link to the terrorist group. India has blamed the attacks on forces operating within Pakistan.
"LAT is a stateless sponsor of terrorism, and it hopes to destroy relations between Pakistan and India and undermine Pakistani's president, Musharraf," Bush said. "To achieve its purpose, LAT has committed acts of terrorism inside both India and Pakistan. LAT is a terrorist organization that presents a global threat, and I look forward to working with the governments of both India and Pakistan in a common effort to shut it down, and to bring the killers to justice."
Already, in the 100 days since suicide hijackers attacked on Sept. 11, the Bush administration has blocked more than US$33 million in assets of groups said to be involved in terrorism. Some of the 142 countries that are cooperating in the US anti-terror campaign have frozen another US$33 million in assets.
The tallies are part of a 100-day report released by the White House on Thursday to show progress in the war at a time when frustrating questions swirl around bin Laden's whereabouts and whether he will be captured at all.
White House: The Global War on Terrorism -- The First 100 Days
Since United States began bombing targets in Afghanistan on Oct. 7, the military has destroyed at least 11 terrorist training camps and 39 command posts of Afghanistan's terrorist-allied Taliban, according to the White House report.
During that same period, the Defense Department's $51 million humanitarian mission airdropped nearly 2.5 million food packets to starving Afghan civilians.
On the diplomatic front, the report points to Afghan progress in forming a new interim government, led by Prime Minister Hamid Karzai.
(China Daily December 21, 2001)