ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A Pakistani court freed nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan on Friday from unofficial house arrest, capping a rehabilitation that began almost from the moment he confessed in 2004 to secretly selling sensitive nuclear technology to rogue regimes around the world.
The decision to grant freedom of movement to Khan stirred alarm in Washington, which worries that Iran has continued to pursue nuclear arms and that Pakistan may not be able to safeguard its own arsenal in the face of rising Islamic militancy.
Khan remains a "serious proliferation risk," State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said. The White House said President Obama wants assurances from Pakistan that Khan isn't involved in the activity that led to his arrest.
In the House, Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, suggested that U.S. aid to Pakistan could suffer because of the move.
Khan, considered in the West as a rogue scientist and a pariah who sold technology to North Korea, Libya and Iran, is regarded as a national hero for his role in transforming Pakistan into a nuclear power.
Asked Friday what the international community would think of his release, Khan was typically defiant. "Are they happy with our God? Are they happy with our prophet? Are they happy with our leader? Never," he said. "I don't care about rest of the world. I care about my country. Obama cares about America, not about Pakistan or India or Afghanistan."
Khan said he had no plans to return to the nuclear field. Khan's wife, Hanny Khan, said that her husband would remain under some restrictions, including a gag order, and that authorities still held his passport.
If Khan were allowed to speak of all he knows, or chooses to do so, he could cause considerable embarrassment to Pakistan. In July, he said Pakistan had transported uranium enrichment equipment to North Korea in 2000 with the full knowledge of the country's army, then headed by Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
While the 72-year-old scientist is a pariah in the West, he is a national hero for his pivotal role in developing the nuclear bomb for Pakistan and was lionized by Islamists for making it the world's only Muslim nuclear power.
He was detained in December 2003 and admitted on television in early 2004 that he operated a network that spread nuclear weapons technology. He was immediately pardoned by President Musharraf and placed under de facto house arrest.
Unanswered questions remain about the technology that Khan allegedly shared and with whom he shared it, and whether Pakistani authorities knew what he was doing or profited from sales.