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Khan Not a Suspect in Nuclear Probe, says Pakistani Minister

Pakistan's interior minister says Abdul Qadeer Khan, the creator of the country's nuclear program, is not suspected of transferring nuclear technology to other countries. This contradicts reported statements by other, unnamed Pakistani officials.

Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayyat is the first top Pakistani official to go on the record about the status of Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the man who headed the country's nuclear weapons program.

In an interview with VOA, Mr. Hayyat said Mr. Qadeer Khan is not a suspect in the investigation into whether Pakistani scientists leaked nuclear secrets to such countries as Libya and Iran.

"Dr. Qadeer Khan is today known to be the father of Pakistan's nuclear program, and obviously his services are outstanding and of course highly meritorious," he said. "Right now Dr. Qadeer Khan is neither a suspect nor is he being held in custody. He is a totally free man."

Reports in local and Western media have quoted unnamed Pakistani officials as saying that Mr. Qadeer Khan is the prime suspect in the probe.

Officials admitted Friday that there was a division in government circles on how to handle the case against Mr. Qadeer Khan, a national hero for his contribution to the country's nuclear research.

The conflicting accounts of Mr. Hayyat and the other, unnamed officials, seem to support the report of a disagreement within the leadership.

Minister Hayyat told VOA that the authorities are still looking into allegations that some of the country's leading nuclear scientists may have been involved in the transfer of nuclear weapons technology.

He said that three scientists and three former military officials associated with the country's top nuclear facility, the Kahuta Research Laboratories, are currently being interrogated.

He confirmed that Mr. Qadeer Khan has also been questioned, but said this was only because of his position as former head of the facility.

Pakistani authorities launched the investigation after the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency sent a letter warning that a transfer of technology might have taken place. The letter mentioned the names of some Pakistani scientists suspected of selling nuclear know-how for personal profit.

Authorities interrogated and detained nearly a dozen scientists and security officials from the Kahuta laboratories, most of whom have close links to Mr. Qadeer Khan. Five of them have been allowed to go home after questioning.

President Pervez Musharraf said this week that those found guilty of proliferating nuclear technology would be given harsh punishment as "enemies of the state."