Friday, February 6, 2009

Pakistani Nuclear Scientist Freed From House Arrest

Zahid Hussain
The Wall Street Journal

A Pakistani court Friday freed Abdul Qadeer Khan, the scientist who had confessed to selling nuclear weapon technology to Iran, North Korea, and Libya, ending his five year house detention.

Sardar Mohammad Aslam, chief justice of the Islamabad High Court, ruled that Mr. Khan's detention was unlawful. Details of the ruling are confidential. Mr. Khan's lawyer said the high court had declared him a free citizen.

"The court has said as he was not involved in nuclear proliferation or criminal activity, there is no case against him, therefore he is a free citizen," Mr. Khan's attorney Ali Zafar said.

The decision came after a closed door hearing on a petition filed by the scientist. The restriction was lifted after Mr. Khan agreed not to speak on nuclear issues. In July, the court had relaxed restrictions on him, allowing him to meet his close relatives.

State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said the U.S. opposes Mr. Khan's release. "If he is released, we think it would be extremely regrettable. This man remains a serious proliferation risk," Mr. Duguid said.

Mr. Khan was seen as Pakistan's national hero after a successful nuclear test in May 1998 that established the predominantly Muslim nation as the world's seventh nuclear power. He was hailed as father of the country's nuclear bomb.

But he fell from grace when he admitted on national television to selling nuclear technology to other countries. He later backtracked on his confession saying it was extracted under duress.

Mr. Khan, 72 years old, was placed under house detention in February 2004.

"I am a free man now," Mr. Khan told reporters outside his villa in Islamabad where he lived in confinement.

Mr. Khan declined to comment on the allegations about his role in nuclear proliferation. "I don't want to discuss the past," he said. He said he would work for promotion of education in the country.

Mr. Khan allegedly supervised a vast clandestine nuclear black market network with tentacles spread over three continents. With the help of middlemen in various countries, the network allegedly supplied nuclear material to Libya, Iran and North Korea.

For almost three decades, the U.S. and Western intelligence agencies had been investigating Mr. Khan's role in nuclear proliferation. Investigations also revealed his links to Iranian, Libyan and North Korean nuclear programs.

A statement from Pakistan's foreign ministry said the government would provide Mr. Khan with "all requisite security." It said Pakistan has taken "all necessary measures to promote the goals of nonproliferation. The so called A.Q. Khan affair is a closed chapter."

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