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Court frees 'father' of the country's atomic bomb

Latest update : 2009-02-07

The Islamabad High Court has ruled that nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, considered the father of Pakistan's atomic weapons programme, can go free. Khan has spent the past five years effectively under house arrest.

AFP - A Pakistani court on Friday ruled that nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, father of the country's atomic bomb, was a free man, five years after he was effectively put under house arrest.

The chief justice of the Islamabad High Court, Sardar Mohammad Aslam, made the decision after hearing lawyers representing government and the nuclear scientist in a closed doors session on Friday.

"The petitioner is declared a free citizen and writ petition is disposed off," said a written order issued by the court.

Khan has been effectively under house arrest in Islamabad since February 2004, when he confessed on television to sending nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea, although he retracted his remarks later.

Friday's court decision comes just weeks after the United States unveiled sanctions against Khan, 12 associates and three firms linked to his nuclear proliferation network.

Speaking to reporters in the grounds of his villa in Islamabad on Friday, the scientist thanked President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani for his freedom.

"This has happened because of the keen interest taken by the president and prime minister, and especially the advisor to the prime minister on the interior, Rehman Malik, who looked into the case and reviewed it," said Khan.

Asked if he would be able to move freely, he replied: "As far as I have been told, I will go anywhere in Pakistan without any restrictions and I will get whatever security that I had with me previously.

"If I want to travel abroad I will have to seek permission from the government," he said.

At one point while talking to the bevvy of television cameras, the scientist who had cancer surgery in 2006, sat down in a waiting chair.

Asked whether he felt there was any threat to his life, Khan said: "nobody would want to hurt me."

Pointing to the sky, he said: "if it (death) comes, it comes there not here."

Last July, Aslam ruled that Khan can travel within the country to visit relatives, but barred him from giving interviews on proliferation.

Khan was pardoned by then Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf in 2004 but had been kept at his residence ever since, guarded by troops and intelligence agents.

The US sanctions announced on January 12 forbid Kan, 12 associates and three firms from having business dealings with the US government or private US firms in what the State Department says is a renewed bid to make sure the network has been shut down entirely.

Washington has been concerned that elements of the network could still be active since Khan acknowledged his role nearly five years ago.

In June last year, former UN arms inspector David Albright urged the US government to pressure Pakistan to allow US or UN experts to question Khan over the sale of nuclear know-how to Iran or North Korea.

Date created : 2009-02-06