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Pakistan Decides Not to Press Charges Against Suspected Nuclear Terrorists

By Peter Baker and Kamran Khan

The Washington Post

LAHORE, Pakistan

Pakistan has decided not to press criminal charges against two of its nuclear scientists whose reported contacts with Osama bin Laden stirred fears of nuclear terrorism, according to officials and a lawyer involved in the case.

Although Pakistani authorities concluded the scientists violated a secrecy oath during trips into Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, the government decided they would not have been able to give away critical information necessary to build a bomb. A trial, officials said, would generate further international embarrassment and risk disclosure of Pakistan’s nuclear secrets.

“Every thing that relates to our nuclear program is a state secret,” said a senior Pakistani official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “By talking to Osama and his folks in Afghanistan, the scientists broke their oath to secrecy, yet we were forced to ignore their action in the best interest of the nation.”

The scientists, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Abdul Majid, will remain under government control as part of a deal worked out for their release from strict detention. They are currently living in a safe house in the capital, Islamabad, and restricted in their travels and communications. Mahmood’s family, which went to court seeking his release following his arrest last fall, agreed to the arrangement and on Monday withdrew a legal complaint filed here in Lahore, the family’s home town.

“There was a settlement. It was a mutual understanding between him and the government,” said the family’s lawyer, Mohammed Ismaeel Qureshy. “They are not prisoners. What was communicated to me was they were under protective custody for their own protection.”

Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, made the decision to forgo prosecution. His government assured U.S. officials that they would have access to the scientists for further questioning if needed.