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Al-Qaida Attempted to Develop Weapons of Mass Destruction

The head of the U.S. Central Command has confirmed reports that al-Qaida terrorists in Afghanistan attempted to make weapons of mass destruction. But they didn't get very far.

General Tommy Franks said U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan were alerted to between 50 and 60 sites where followers of Osama bin Laden and his terrorist al-Qaida network attempted to make weapons of mass destruction.

But after visiting one of those sites, a lab near Kandahar, General Franks said those trying to put together some sort of chemical or biological weapon had far to go. General Franks said, "The laboratories, based on what we're able to take from them, documentation, vials and so forth, were dedicated to that purpose. Lots of work going on, but we've not found an indication that anything that anything ever got mixed in the right way to create a weapon of mass destruction."

General Franks made his comments on the NBC television program Meet the Press.

The question a lot of people are asking is whether the anthrax labs, or whatever they were, in Afghanistan are related to the spate of anthrax poisonings in the United States last fall.

Anthrax killed five Americans who came in contact with the lethal bacterium through the mail. The New York Times newspaper is reporting that one of the September 11 hijackers may have been treated for the skin form of anthrax, raising suspicions that he may have played a role in the outbreak of anthrax disease in the United States.

But, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, appearing on Fox News Sunday, says authorities are continuing to focus their resources and attention on domestic suspects. Mr. Ashcroft said, "We continue to believe that the kind of anthrax that was in the envelopes sent to the officials in Washington, Senator Leahy, Senator Daschle, that anthrax was so well-refined and so highly developed that we believed it took individuals with real lab experience and technical capacity to get that done."

The anthrax-containing letters resulted in the closure of a senate office building for three months. The building was opened only after it was fully decontaminated.