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Pakistani scientists met with bin Laden

Two retired nuclear scientists who were recently arrested and questioned have acknowledged that they met Osama bin Laden at least twice this year, Pakistani investigators said Sunday.

Sultan Bashir-ud-Din Mehmood and Abdul Majid left their senior positions at the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission about two years ago and established a relief organization in Afghanistan.

The men said they met bin Laden at least twice during visits to Afghanistan's southern city of Kandahar in connection with the construction of a flour mill, according to a Pakistani official who spoke on condition of anonymity, the Associated Press reported.

Mehmood heads Tameer-e-Ummah, or the Nation Building, a private group involved in rehabilitating Afghanistan. Majid also worked for the aid group.

The scientists were arrested Oct. 23 and questioned about their work in Afghanistan. They were released after a few days in detention, only to be arrested a couple of days later.

They were questioned by Pakistani and U.S. investigators, the Pakistani official said.

Neither man has been charged with any offense, and Pakistani officials said there was nothing to suggest the men passed on nuclear information or materials.

In a newspaper interview published Saturday, bin Laden claimed he had acquired nuclear and chemical weapons, and would unleash them if the United States used such weapons against him.

On Sunday, British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said he thought bin Laden possessed material capable of contributing to a nuclear weapon.

"We are certainly aware that he has some material that could contribute to a nuclear weapon," Hoon said. "We are not convinced at this stage that he is capable of producing a nuclear bomb."

Pakistan, which supported Afghanistan's ruling Taliban before the terror attacks, has nuclear weapons, but insists it has not leaked nuclear information or material.

"Pakistan is fully alive to the responsibilities of its nuclear status," President Pervez Musharraf said Saturday at the United Nations in New York. "Let me assure you all that our strategic assets are well guarded and are in safe hands."