Ridge discounts nuclear weapon documents

By KATHY A. GAMBRELL, White House reporter   |   Nov. 15, 2001 at 5:50 PM
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WASHINGTON, Nov. 15 (UPI) -- Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge on Thursday said blueprints for nuclear weapons were discovered in an al Qaida safe house in the Afghan capital, Kabul, but discounted the likelihood that suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden had the ability to construct or deploy a weapon of mass destruction.

"I would say the fact that we have discovered that -- one of the safe houses that bin Laden's associates or al Qaida had some material is relative to a nuclear threat is certainly consistent with his statements that he would like to acquire that capacity," Ridge said during a visit to the U.S. Department of Energy. "It does not confirm that he has the [nuclear]capacity."

The United States blames bin Laden for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on Washington and New York that killed some 4,500 people. U.S. airstrikes were launched against Afghanistan's Taliban regime for its refusal to surrender bin Laden.

News that the documents were found came five days after President Bush warned the international community during the U.N. General Assembly that bin Laden and his al Qaida group were trying to acquire chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

Ridge said the information discovered was unimportant.

"I just wanted to add the information that I'm told this morning that was gleaned from that house, related to al Qaida, much of that information could have been taken right off the Internet some years ago," he said. "So there's nothing unusual about the information. It was available to the public through other sources, other than through the al Qaida network."

U.S. military forces have been on the ground in parts of Afghanistan, including Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif, abandoned by the Taliban following their recent spate of defeats to the Northern Alliance.

At the Pentagon Thursday, U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Tommy Franks said one of their objectives was to search for locations where weapons of mass destruction were being planned or constructed.

"The first thing that we did was take a look at all of the intelligence feeds that we have had over a prolonged period of time, over the last two or three months, to get the potential locations of WMD-related efforts," Franks said. "Now we are about the business of checking those sites out as they fall into -- as they fall under our control."

So far, he said, nothing has been found.

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