Two retired Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission scientists and Islamic fundamentalists—Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Chaudiri Abdul Majeed—provided some rudimentary nuclear know-how to the terror group Al Qaeda.
According to a US Congressional Research Service (CRS) report titled “Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons”, published in January 2016, Mahmood and Majeed, as part of the “humanitarian” organisation Umma Tameer-e Nau (UTN), assisted Al Qaeda, apparently related to weapons of mass destruction but there are very few details on the extent of the transfers.
The two former scientists were long-time rivals of former Pakistani nuclear physicist accused of selling nuclear know-how to various countries, A.Q. Khan. The report claims “Mahmood and Majeed met with Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri in August 2001 in Afghanistan to discuss, among other topics, the necessary elements for developing a nuclear weapons infrastructure, details of nuclear bomb design, and how to construct radiological dispersal devices.” The US report states that the Al Qaaeda approached the UTN after “unsuccessfully” seeking “nuclear weapons assistance from the Khan network”.
According to the report, Mahmood, famous for his eccentric and extreme views about science and Islam, was demoted in 1999 to a lower rank in part because of his radicalism. Mahmood then sought early retirement and started the UTN. After the US briefed the Pakistan government about this activity at the highest levels in the “fall of 2001”, the Pakistan authorities detained Mahmood and Majeed for multiple rounds of questioning. Through these interrogations and searches in Afghanistan, UTN’s work with Al-Qaeda on biological weapons and rudimentary nuclear weapons technology came to light.
The Pakistani government did not press criminal charges against Mahmood and Majeed, but put the scientists under house arrest in 2002. This extreme case raised awareness of the “insider threat”. The 28-page CRS report also states that a Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence report published on 15 September 2011 stated that Pakistan, as an under-developed country with no industrial infrastructure, had to buy every bit of material and piece of equipment surreptitiously from abroad in the open market and had to establish a network of cover companies within the country and outside to by-pass embargoes and import all the necessary items.
A.Q. Khan directed this procurement and subsequently used a similar network to supply Libya, North Korea, and Iran with designs and materials related to uranium enrichment.
The US report states that the current status of Pakistan’s nuclear export network is unclear, although most official US reports indicate that it may have been damaged considerably.