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Bin Laden claims to have nuclear weapons in interview with Pakistani newspaper

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) _ Terror suspect Osama bin Laden claims he has nuclear and chemical weapons and will unleash them if the United States uses similar weapons against him, according to an interview published Saturday in one of Pakistan's largest newspapers.

``I wish to declare that if America used chemical and nuclear weapons against us, then we may retort with chemical and nuclear weapons. We have the weapons as a deterrent,'' the Dawn newspaper quoted bin Laden as saying in an interview near the Afghan capital Kabul on Wednesday night.

The United States, which is bombing positions of Afghanistan's ruling Taliban and bin Laden's al-Qaida network, says it has no evidence that bin Laden possesses nuclear weapons. Intelligence experts, however, believe his fighters have experimented with crude chemical weapons at a training camp in Afghanistan.

``They're seeking chemical, biological and nuclear weapons,'' President Bush said in Washington on Friday. ``Given the means, our enemies would be a threat to every nation and, eventually, to civilization itself.''

National security adviser Condoleezza Rice said the United States had ``no credible evidence at this point of a specific threat of that kind.''

In London, a spokesman for the British Foreign Office also said bin Laden has sought chemical, biological and nuclear weapons capability but that Britain does not believe he has it.

Hamid Mir, a Pakistani journalist sympathetic to the Taliban and a bin Laden biographer, conducted the Dawn interview. He said he asked bin Laden where he allegedly got the weapons. ``Go to the next question,'' bin Laden replied.

Mir said the interview was conducted at an ``undisclosed location'' near Kabul.

Mir said he was blindfolded and driven in a jeep from Kabul on Wednesday night to a very cold place where he could hear the sound of anti-aircraft fire.

Bin Laden eventually arrived, accompanied by a dozen bodyguards and his deputy, Ayman el-Zawahri.

The Dawn published a photograph of Mir sitting with bin Laden on cushions on the floor against a brown backdrop. Bin Laden wore a white turban and scarf with a camouflage jacket. A Kalashnikov rifle lay at his side.

The story was also published Saturday in Ausaf, a Pakistani Urdu-language newspaper that he edits,

In the interview, Bin Laden did not admit responsibility for the attacks in which terrorists steered passenger planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.

But he said they were justified because Washington had been arming Israel, and was conducting ``atrocities'' against Muslims in Iraq, the dispute region of Kashmir and elsewhere.

``The Sept. 11 attacks were not targeted at women and children,'' bin Laden said. ``The real targets were America's icons of military and economic power.''

Bin Laden denied reports that he was suffering a kidney illness and praised Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban's supreme leader.

``He is not under any personal relationship or obligation to me,'' he said. ``He is only discharging his religious duty. I, too, have not chosen this life out of any personal consideration.''

The United States believes bin Laden was behind the Sept. 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington that killed about 4,500 people. It launched air strikes Oct. 7 against the Taliban after it refused to hand over the suspect.
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