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Archive for Tuesday, August 20, 2002

U.S. suspects chemical testing in Iraq

August 20, 2002

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— Arab terrorists linked to al-Qaida may have tested biological weapons at a small facility in northern Iraq known to American intelligence, a U.S. official said Monday.

U.S. intelligence agencies had reason to suspect that the facility, in a part of northern Iraq not controlled by President Saddam Hussein's government, was a kind of laboratory for chemical and biological weapons activity that included testing on barnyard animals and at least one man, the official said on condition of anonymity.

U.S. officials believe the terrorists tested a biological toxin known as ricin, a deadly poison made from the castor bean plant.

The Pentagon has reviewed possibly taking military action because any time there is intelligence about production of weapons of mass destruction all options are considered, including military, a U.S. counterterror official said in Washington.

The Bush administration considered a covert military operation against the facility in Kurdish-controlled Iraq, but President Bush did not approve military action, ABC News' "World News Tonight" reported Monday.

Citing unidentified intelligence officials, ABC News said that as U.S. surveillance of the weapons facility intensified, Bush administration officials concluded it was too small and crude to be worth risking American lives and the outcry among allies that might follow any U.S. action inside Iraq.

At the White House, a spokesman for Bush's National Security Council refused comment.

"As a matter of policy, we don't discuss whether something was or was not briefed to the president," spokesman Michael Anton said in Washington. "We don't discuss military targeting whether something is, was or might be a military target."

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