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US Examining Possible al-Qaida Chemical Weapons

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says U.S. experts are examining what may be canisters containing chemical weapons found at an al-Qaida terrorist facility in Afghanistan.

Mr. Rumsfeld indicates external markings on the canisters suggest they may contain chemical weapons. He does not say what type or provide any details about the circumstances of the canisters' discovery in Afghanistan.

But the U.S. defense secretary says they are being carefully examined. "Externally they've got stuff on them that make reasonable people think that there's something not good in there and we're going to check them out," he said.

Mr. Rumsfeld says U.S. personnel in Afghanistan have now visited more than 40 of some 50 plus suspected al-Qaida sites for so-called weapons of mass destruction, a term covering chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

He says that what he terms al-Qaida's "appetite" for such weapons is clear. But so far, other than the suspect canisters, he says no hard evidence has been found that al-Qaida actually had any.

Mr. Rumsfeld tells Pentagon reporters he has seen photographs of the canisters. He says he was made aware of their discovery in the last few weeks.

Two journalists murdered in Afghanistan in November filed reports shortly before their deaths detailing the discovery of what appeared to be deadly Sarin gas at an al-Qaida terrorist base outside of the city of Jalalabad.

At the time, U.S. officials voiced skepticism that the canisters found by the reporters actually contained Sarin.