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Pakistan details Mohammed interrogation

Breaking its official silence on the recent arrest of top al-Qaida lieutenant Khalid Sheik Mohammed, Pakistan's secretive Inter-Services Intelligence agency Monday said that Mohammed told interrogators he met with Osama bin Laden in December, but wouldn't tell them where.

In a highly unusual background briefing for foreign journalists, senior officials from the agency said Mohammed, who was suffering from a high fever, was interrogated for three days by a joint U.S-Pakistani team before being turned over to U.S. custody.

Officials from the intelligence agency, known as ISI, rarely make themselves available to the foreign press. In keeping with the reputation for secrecy, the ISI officials who conducted the briefing declined to give their names.

During the first two days, they said, Mohammed was uncooperative and divulged only his name. On the third day, however, Mohammed "started divulging information on his contacts inside and outside Pakistan," including a meeting with bin Laden in December, one of the officials said.

The official said that on the basis of Mohammed's interrogation and other evidence, investigators believe bin Laden is alive, but probably not in Pakistan. He questioned the credibility of Mohammed's assertion that he had met bin Laden in December, saying, "I don't believe him unless he tells us the location."

The most powerful of Pakistan's multiple security services, the organization worked closely with Afghanistan's Taliban movement and has provided training and logistical support to Islamic groups fighting Indian forces in Kashmir. But ISI officials said they wanted to counter the impression that the agency was not serious about fighting terrorism or did so only because the United States gave it no choice.

In showing a tape of Mohammed's arrest, ISI officials appeared eager to demonstrate that their agents conducted the raid without help from FBI agents who have been present for other al-Qaida arrests in Pakistan. They said Mohammed was interrogated, with American participation, for three days before he was flown out of the country. They displayed a photograph that appeared to show Mohammed sitting in an interrogation room with a blanket wrapped around his shoulders.

Several news organizations, citing unnamed Pakistani and U.S. officials, have reported that Mohammed was spirited out of the country within hours of his arrest. On the basis of accounts provided by other Pakistani security officials, one of whom was present for Mohammed's interrogation, the Washington Post also has reported that Mohammed told investigators he had not seen bin Laden since before the Sept. 11 attacks _ rather than in December, as the ISI officials said Monday. The conflicting accounts could not be reconciled.

Four Algerians sentenced for French bomb plot

FRANKFURT, Germany _ Four Algerians, three of whom admitted training in Afghan terror camps, were convicted of plotting to bomb a French Christmas market and sentenced to prison terms of from 10 to 12 years.

The four were convicted of conspiracy to commit murder, conspiring to plant a bomb and of weapons violations, capping a trial that opened under intense scrutiny last year but that never exposed the inner workings of al-Qaida in Europe as prosecutors had hoped.

Prosecutors said the defendants were part of a network of predominantly North African extremists called the Nonaligned Mujahideen, with ties to al-Qaida. But the government dropped charges of belonging to a terrorist organization in January to speed up the trial.

Salim Boukari received the longest sentence, 12 years, followed by Fouhad Sabour, 11{ years. Both denied intent to kill, insisting they targeted an empty synagogue.

The five judges of the Frankfurt state court called that argument "absurd" and said the four plotted to detonate a bomb in the market near the cathedral in Strasbourg on New Year's Eve 2000.

Alleged co-organizer Aeroubi Beandalis _ the only one to admit that the cell intended to target revelers _ received 10 years. Lamine Maroni, who was ejected early on for his ranting invective but remained silent throughout the trial, was sentenced to 11 years.

A fifth suspect was dropped from the trial in August because of a lack of evidence.

First "dirty bomb' conference convenes

VIENNA _ Scientists, police commanders and government officials from more than 100 countries are converging on Vienna for the world's first "dirty bomb" conference, searching for ways to head off the threat of simple weapons that spread radiation and chaos.

A recent U.S. experts' report concludes that tens of thousands of the most dangerous radiation sources _ used to treat cancer, find oil deposits, disinfect food _ may be insufficiently protected.

A so-called dirty bomb _ conventional explosives combined with radioactive material _ has yet to be detonated anywhere. But the al-Qaida network is reported to have been interested in trying such a terror weapon.

When it comes to safeguarding cesium, strontium and other radiation sources, "what may have been sufficient in the past may or may not be now," U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said in an interview ahead of today's conference opening.

The three-day gathering of world experts, sponsored by the U.S. and Russian governments, has an ambitious agenda in laying plans for a global defense against the bombs, known technically as radiological dispersal devices.

The more than 600 technical specialists, customs and other law enforcement officers, regulatory officials and others will explore ways to identify the most threatening forms of radiation sources. They also will discuss how to find abandoned radioactive material, keep track of sources in use, combat smuggling of such material, and respond to the detonation of a dirty bomb in a congested city.

Elsewhere . . .

GUANTANAMO SUICIDE ATTEMPT: A detainee at Guantanamo Bay tried to kill himself in his cell, the 22nd suicide attempt among suspects held at the U.S. naval base in eastern Cuba, a military spokesman said Monday. The man is one of 16 detainees who have tried to commit suicide, and the attempt wasn't his first. Most have used bed sheets or pieces of clothing to try to hang themselves.

AFGHAN BOMBING: A bomb exploded Monday as participants were leaving a tribal meeting in southern Afghanistan, killing three people and wounding five, hospital officials and eyewitnesses said. Police were unavailable to confirm the incident, but witnesses said the bomb exploded about 15 miles west of Kandahar.