Saddam has germ warfare arsenal, says defecting physicist
By Jessica Berry in Beirut
(Filed: 30/09/2001)

SADDAM HUSSEIN has directed his top scientists to work exclusively on expanding his chemical and biological weapons arsenal, one of the regime's former senior scientists has told The Telegraph.

He said Saddam has ordered the nuclear weapons programme to be shelved because it had proved too expensive. The disclosures by the nuclear physicist, a recent Iraqi defector, will add to the alarm of Western leaders who last week issued a warning of the prospect of chemical attacks on European and American targets.

Military experts said Saddam's decision could have been linked to the attacks on New York's World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, which investigators believe were planned years in advance.

Over the past six months about 3,000 physicists and chemists have been working flat out on secret programmes to develop both toxins and the means to deploy them to lethal effect, according to Dr al Sabiri (not his real name).

The scientist formerly worked at the Atomic Energy Organisation in Baghdad, but defected because of his growing horror of the regime. "I created death in Iraq. I had to get out," he said. Details of Dr al Sabiri's defection cannot be revealed because of fears for his safety.

"I was asked to examine hundreds of complicated and dangerous toxins," he said. "They were very easy to use to create germs. You could put them in water or steam, throw them in the air or use them in the soil. We developed nerve gas, botulism and anthrax.

"One day a light green yellow substance, which was crystallised and packed in tins, arrived. Suddenly intelligence men came in and rushed it away. I later found out they were working on some secret project."

All these substances were tested on Iraqi prisoners, mainly Kurds and Shi'ites in Radwania jail, in west Baghdad. The projects are headed by Prof Shaher Mahmoud al Jibouri, a chemist and secret service agent. Senior Western intelligence officers confirmed the experimentation on prisoners.

"Between April and May this year, 30 prisoners died after being used in experiments," said one. Earlier this month The Telegraph revealed that at least 20 Iraqi soldiers had died and about 200 were injured after a chemical weapons training exercise had gone wrong.

Dr al Sabiri spent five years in the organisation's Neutron Analysis and Activation Department. Scientists, paid about 10 a month, worked exclusively on analysing substances, mostly imported, in order to copy and produce more. Using a small nuclear reactor, they are able to establish the exact composition of a substance.

There was a shortage of material, which was why he was told to copy the samples that he was given. At one stage he was asked to reproduce a wax, crucial for use in firing ballistic missiles. This he did with the help of several Bulgarian scientists. "Ballistic missiles," he said, "is just one method they want to use to spread the poisons."

More importantly, he said, the regime is currently working on adapting 12 pilotless aircraft, last used in the Iran-Iraq war during the 1980s. "Engineers are now working on developing their range. So far they have managed a range of 700 miles," he said.

"The planes could easily reach Israel, Iran, Turkey or Saudi Arabia. The idea is to use them to deploy the toxins." Most of the parts, he added, were imported.

A senior Western intelligence officer said last night that at least 30 front companies, mainly pharmaceutical firms, are under investigation for supplying Iraq. They are based in Italy, Thailand, the Philippines and the United Arab Emirates. The companies cannot be named for legal reasons.

The defector's disclosures refute comments by Tariq Aziz, Iraqi deputy prime minister, who last week denied that the regime had any biological weapons. Last week Paul Wolfowitz, the United States deputy defence secretary, told Nato colleagues of "the alarming coincidence between states that harbour international terrorists and those states that have active, maturing programmes of WMD [weapons of mass destruction]."

American hardliners are said to be keen to attack Iraq as soon as possible, and believe that aerial bombardment is sufficient. British defence advisers, however, have warned Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, against this.

It is unwise, they say, while there is no suitable successor to Saddam. One intelligence official added: "The other problem is, we have no idea where Saddam is."