'Key al Qaeda aide alive, devp WMDs'

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Washington, Feb 4: A top Al Qaeda expert on chemical and biological weapons who Pakistan says was killed in a US airstrike in 2006 is alive and developing World Mass Destruction weapons (WMDs), US intellifgence officials say.

The intelligence officials believe that the Egyptian, Abu Khabab Masri, is alive and well -- and in charge of resurrecting Al Qaeda's programme to develop or obtain weapons of mass destruction, the Los Angeles Times reports. They say Al Qaeda has regenerated at least some of the robust research and development effort that it lost when the U S military bombed its Afghanistan headquarters and training camps in late 2001, and they believe it is once again trying to develop or obtain chemical, biological, radiological and even nuclear weapons to use in attacks on the United States and other enemies.

Some experts have questioned how far Al Qaeda could get in reconstituting a weapons programme in the mountains of Pakistan.

However, Pakistani Information Minister Nisar Memon refused to comment on Abu Khabab and Al Qaeda's weapons programme, but security officials from three Pakistani intelligence agencies, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that he is alive.

Abu Khabab, whose real name is Midhat Mursi al-Sayid Umar, is believed to have set up rudimentary labs with at least a handful of aides, and to have provided a stable environment in which scientists and researchers can experiment with chemicals and other compounds, said several former intelligence officials familiar with Al Qaeda's weapons programme.

Recent intelligence shows that Abu Khabab, 54, is training Western recruits for chemical attacks in Europe and perhaps the United States, just as he did when he ran the ''Khabab Camp'' at Al Qaeda's sprawling Darunta training complex in Afghanistan's Tora Bora region before the September 11 attacks, according to one senior U S intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the CIA's intelligence is classified.

Educated in Egypt as a chemical engineer, Abu Khabab has no formal training in biological or nuclear weapons, intelligence officials say. But he has ended up in charge of the weapons programme at least in part because some operatives believed to be more knowledgeable about biological and nuclear weapons have been captured or killed.


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