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Defectors say Iraq tested Nuclear Bomb
February 25, 2001
MER WEEKEND READING:
IRAQIS PROBABLY BUILDING ABC WEAPONS
ON THE ROAD TO MIDDLE EAST ARMAGEDDON
"The message I plan to
give...is that the
cause of these problems
we have is in Baghdad
and Saddam Hussein."
Secretary of State
Colin Powell, Cairo 24 Feb
When Iraq was more overtly building nuclear weapons, the Israelis struck
in 1981 destroying the Osirak reactor near Baghdad that could have provided
the crucial processed uranium fuel. When Iraq was building a huge giant gun
that could threaten Israel, the brilliant Gerald Bull from Europe in charge,
the Mossad assassinated Bull. When the Iraq-Iran war was over -- a war instigated
by the CIA and Mossad in the first place hoping to use Iraq to undo the Iranian
revolution -- and when Saddam Hussein foolishly made statements about what
he would do to Israel if Israel ever attached Iraq again, Saddam was provoked
and tricked (by the same players) into invading once-province Kuwait providing
the excuse for Iraq's destruction and his own demise (the first accomplished,
the second not yet).
Israel introduced weapons of mass destruction to the Middle East. In fact
it was "Nobel Peace Prize winner" Shimon Peres who played a major role in getting
French help for this in the 1960s. It is thought the old CIA of Jim Angelton
also provided help, under the table of course, while looking the other way
as the Israelis also got help from a number of American Jewish businessmen.
This development, coupled with the 1967 and 1973 wars, provided the impetus
for the Arabs and the Muslims to seriously turn toward attempting to build
nuclear weapons, and in more recent years chemical and biological weapons,
which the Israelis also now possess in far greater quantity and quality. Libya
helped Pakistan back in the days of Bhutto, and now the Pakistanis have the
bomb as well, even though the Israelis and the Indians attempted to prevent
this, including failed attempts to bomb Pakistan's Kahuta reactor some years
With U.S. policies unraveling in the Middle East, including that of sanctionning
Iraq into submission at the cost of tremendous human death and suffering, the
U.S. is twisting toward new policies of containment and war preparations.
There is a de facto U.S.-Israeli-Turkey military alliance, plus of course Arabia
is essentially occupied by both the U.S. military and the CIA with Egypt and
Jordan also part of this overall relationship -- mostly carried out covertly
As for Iraq, the Americans have made repeated public statements that "we
will not tolerate" Iraq developing weapons of mass destruction; and everything
relating to Iraq continues to be very closely coordinated with the Israelis.
The fact that ally Israeli has military forces eight times more powerful than
all the Arab armies combined, that Israel has a huge arsenal of such weapons,
and that the U.S. has essentially declared the whole region a U.S. protectorate
without actually using these words -- all of this is not the focus of the controlled
and manipulated mass media.
The following German assessment, also leaked in the past few days, may be
accurate if interpreted to mean that Iraq may need years yet in order to actually
ready a workable nuclear arsenal and means to deliver it:
GERMANY: IRAQ MAY HAVE NUKES IN 3 YEARS
BERLIN - (Reuters, 24 Feb) Saddam Hussein may be able to menace
Iraq's neighbors with nuclear weapons in three years and fire a
missile as far as Europe by 2005, according to a German
intelligence assessment made public yesterday.
The Federal Intelligence Service (BND) has gathered evidence that
Baghdad is also stepping up efforts to produce chemical weapons and
has increased purchases abroad of the inputs needed to make
Details of the assessment were published in German newspapers. A
spokesman at the BND's headquarters near Munich confirmed that
selected correspondents had been briefed on Iraq by intelligence
officials on Friday.
Iraq barred UN weapons inspectors in 1998, making it extremely
difficult to keep track of what the West believes are Baghdad's
efforts to menace the Middle East and beyond with ABC - atomic,
biological and chemical - weapons.
Based on information it has gathered, the German BND has drawn
the following conclusions, according to reports in Die Welt and
Frankfurter Allgemeine newspapers:
* Nuclear weapons: There is evidence that Iraq has resumed its
nuclear program and may be capable of producing an atomic bomb in
three years. Work has been observed at the al Qaim site, believed to
be the center of Baghdad's nuclear program.
* Missiles: Iraq is currently developing its Al Samoud and Ababil
100/Al Fatah short-range rockets, which can deliver a 300 kg
payload 150 km. Medium-range rockets capable of carrying a
warhead 3,000 km could be built by 2005, putting Europe within reach.
But whether the German assessment is accurate or not, and whatever the motivations
for it being leaked precisely at this time with General Sharon taking power
in Israel and America's General Powell visiting the region for the first time
in a diplomatic suit, the region is on the road to an ABC War (Atomic, Biological,
Chemical) and stopping it will in itself be difficult at this point.
The following extensive article is from The Sunday Times in London -- the
same newspaper which in the 1980s developed and publicized the story of Israel's
nuclear weapons capabilities with the help of Mordechai Vanunu who is still
imprisoned in Israel for telling what he knew.
DEFECTORS SAY IRAQ TESTED NUCLEAR BOMB
Uzi Mahnaimi and Tom Walker
[The Sunday Times - 25 February]
DISTURBING new evidence has emerged about Saddam Hussein's nuclear arsenal
as tension rises in the Middle East over an increasingly aggressive Iraq.
According to two former senior scientists in the Iraqi nuclear programme -
corroborated by a former aide to Saddam's son Uday - Iraq carried out a successful
nuclear test before the Gulf war and now has a nuclear stockpile.
The scientists describe in detail Iraq's nuclear programme. They say Saddam
carried out a nuclear test in September 1989 deep beneath Lake Rezzaza, southwest
of Baghdad. The blast was undetected because it was relatively small - about
equal to the Hiroshima bomb - and muffled.
Over the past decade, despite UN inspections, Saddam has carried out further
tests and now has several bombs stored in a bunker under the Hamrin mountains
north of Baghdad, they say.
[Picture of Ariel Sharon]
The view from Israel: Sharon plans to attack Iraq's missile sites
if it shows signs of war
Their claims, which are reported in today's News Review section of The Sunday
Times, challenge the consensus among the American, British and Israeli intelligence
services that Saddam does not have sufficient enriched uranium or plutonium
to fulfil his ambition of developing a nuclear bomb.
Israel's prime minister-elect, Ariel Sharon, is expected to warn Colin Powell,
the visiting American secretary of state, during talks today that the region
may slide into war. Powell, who was in Egypt yesterday, urged Arab countries
to join America in countering the threat posed by Saddam.
Israeli military sources say that Sharon has ordered Shaul Mofaz, the chief
of staff, to prepare the army for a pre-emptive attack on Iraq's missile launch
zone, which is close to its border with Syria.
Resurrecting and developing plans from the Gulf war, Sharon threatens to deploy
tactical neutron bombs to "wipe out" the launch zone in the event that intelligence
reports say a non-conventional weapons attack by Iraq is imminent, according
to the sources.
Sources close to Sharon say he will tell Powell that Israel would not sit still
and wait for Iraqi missiles to rain down on its towns, as it did in the 1991
Gulf war in reponse to American requests for restraint.
On Thursday Israel placed its forces on high missile alert after American intelligence
warned about movements of Iraqi armoured divisions close to the border with
Syria. American satellites also picked up preparations in the Iraqi long-range
surface missiles brigade. Israeli air force planes took off opposite the Syrian
Almost at the same time, two American Awacs, four Hawkeye spy planes and 36
assorted American and British fighter aircraft took off from the Turkish base
of Incirlik and from American carriers in the region.
They ran into fierce anti- aircraft missile fire from batteries north of the
Iraqi oil city of Mosul. The allied fighters blasted the Iraqi batteries in
return but caused little damage.
The next day, an Arabic- language Israeli newspaper published a warning from
Baghdad that "Iraq is about to hit Israel" and "will liberate the occupied
territories". An Israeli general, formerly assistant to an Israeli prime minister,
told The Sunday Times: "It's hard to believe that Saddam will use non-conventional
Israel, but we failed to predict his moves in the past and we may fail to do
so in future."
The principal source of the new evidence about Saddam's nuclear programme is
a former military engineer, known as "Leone", who says he worked for a special
scientific department of the Republican Palace in Baghdad, which supervised
the development of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
His claim is corroborated by a scientist from another branch of the weapons
programme and by Abbas al-Janabi, a former personal assistant to Uday Hussein.
"A nuclear test was carried out in 1988 or 1989 in an underground site beside
Lake Rezzaza," said Janabi, who claimed to have been in the test cavern before
the explosion. Satellite images from 1989 show a huge tunnel at the site.
Last month, another former engineer from the weapons programme, now in hiding,
said Saddam had two "fully operational" nuclear bombs.
Western intelligence officers who have heard Leone's claims say he is well
informed, but they insist there is no evidence that Iraq could obtain sufficient
enriched nuclear fuel. Leone and his corroborators say that the fuel was smuggled
in from South Africa via Brazil.
Gwynne Roberts, a film-maker who has investigated Leone's story, said: "Something
very unusual happened on the shores of Lake Rezzaza prior to the Gulf war,
which was completely missed by western intelligence agencies."
On a visit to northern Iraq, Gwynne Roberts stumbled on a trail of compelling
evidence that the 'Butcher of Baghdad' has successfully tested a nuclear bomb.
Could he really have hoodwinked the West?
The evidence: a 1989 satellite photo, right, shows the
entrance to the tunnel under Lake Rezazza and the ground
disturbed by underground activity. Top, Leoni's drawing
of the test bomb. Above, Iraq later destroyed its military
base near the test site. Was this Saddam's bomb?
The mysterious visitor emerged from the shadows outside my hotel in Kurdish
controlled northern Iraq, just as a crisis between Washington and Baghdad was
reaching a climax in January 1998. His appearance set alarm bells ringing.
Several westerners had recently been murdered in Kurdistan, and Iraqi intelligence
agents were blamed.
I was there to investigate the long-term impact of Saddam Hussein's gassing
of the people of Halabja, the town he drenched in lethal chemicals in 1988.
Iraq knew of the mission and my team was at risk. The visitor was visibly nervous
and shivering, and the guards on the hotel steps were suspicious. Although
it was bitterly cold, he was wearing a silk summer jacket.
"Are you a journalist?" he asked my cameraman, who was filming outside the
hotel. He was keen to talk about the Iraqi nuclear programme, but I was suspicious.
After the Kurds had identified him as a bona fide nuclear scientist, I invited
him back to the hotel.
"I am in danger here in Iraq," said "Leone", as we came to know him. "I signed
a document every six months agreeing not to talk to foreigners. It said I and
my family would be executed if I broke the agreement. If I reveal secrets to
you, my life is at risk."
Nonetheless, Leone talked on - and he told me an astonishing story. If true,
it completely contradicts the western consensus about the shortcomings of Saddam's
nuclear weapons programme.
Intelligence agencies, including Israel's Mossad, insist that Saddam has never
had the technology or the fuel to fulfil his ambition of creating a nuclear
arsenal. Yet Leone, and other defectors who have corroborated his story, insist
that Saddam not only has nuclear weapons but has tested them.
SITTING in a scruffy hotel room in Sulaymaniyah, Leone explained in detail
the work he said he was involved in. He described himself as a military engineer
who was a member of the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission. Simultaneously, he
said, he worked for the Republican Palace in Baghdad.
"There is a special scientific department there for supervising all activities
for the Iraqi mass destruction weapons, especially the missile programme. So
I was in a very privileged position. I had my own bodyguards and my special
status protected me. I was authorised to travel to many secret sites all over
Iraq. Very few can do
Leone worked through the night in the hotel, drawing detailed diagrams of nuclear
weapons. "This is Iraq's nuclear bomb," he said, spreading diagrams on the
bed. "I saw it in the workshop in Tuwaitha many times. This is the first successful
prototype. When they finished it in 1986, they took it to the president by
car, but without
uranium. All members of the delegation got cars as presents for their work.
Between 1985 and 1989, I saw this device at least five times."
He said it worked on the principle of the Hiroshima gun-type bomb, in which
high explosives drive pieces of highly enriched uranium together at high velocity.
This triggers a nuclear explosion.
Leone's design was unusual. The uranium was contained in a series of finely
engineered tubes, like the control rods of a nuclear reactor. It was not the
type of design one might find from a search of textbooks or the internet.
He showed me a photograph of what he said was a gun assembly nuclear warhead
bought off the peg from Russia. Six devices were purchased during the late
1980s, he said, all of them without fuel. Iraq managed to purchase fissile
material on the black market for at least one warhead.
Leone then made the staggering claim that Iraq had conducted a nuclear test
before the Gulf war.
"The test was carried out at 10.30am on September 19, 1989, at an underground
site 150km southwest of Baghdad," he said. "Saddam had threatened us with the
death penalty if we told anybody about it.
"The location was a militarised zone on the far shore of Lake Rezzaza, which
used to be a tourist area. There is a natural tunnel there which leads to a
large cavern deep under the lake. Labourers worked on it for two years, strengthening
the tunnel walls.
"There was a big Republican Guard camp nearby and dirt roads leading to the
site. You could see the thick high-tension cables on the ground, which disappeared
into a huge shaft entrance. I saw one which must have been 20km long. The command
post for the test was in a castle in the desert not far away.
"We went to a lot of trouble to conceal the test from the outside world. The
Russians supplied us with a table listing US satellite movements. They were
always helping us. Every six hours, trucks near the test site changed their
positions. They had carried out a lot of irrigation projects in the test area
during the year before as
a diversion. But these weren't agricultural workers. They were nuclear engineers.
It was a nice cheat.
"We had built a special platform for the bomb in the Tuwaitha workshop and
this was sent to the test site. This allowed the device to be jacked up inside
the cavern. Then we sealed off the cavern by blocking part of the tunnel inside
with a 50-metre concrete plug and piling up sand and rocks behind that. All
this was intended to
muffle the explosion, and it's known as 'decoupling'.
"I saw the air-conditioned yellow truck carrying the bomb near the site at
dawn a few days before the test. They always used this vehicle to transport
it. On its side was a wheatsheaf symbol with 'Ministry of Trade' written below
it. I saw the people in charge of the test head off in that direction as well
- Dr Khalid Ibrahim
Sayeed and Dr Jafaar Dhia Jafaar.
"When the test happened, there was no dust or anything. The air just vibrated.
I was in my car at the time and it just shook. It reached about 2.7 on the
Richter scale, and wouldn't really have been noticed by seismic stations outside
Leone said that Hussein Kamel al-Majid, Saddam's brother-in-law, was in overall
charge of the test. [Kamel defected to Jordan in 1995 and was later murdered.]
"After the test, they destroyed the entrance to the tunnel. They also removed
any evidence to indicate that a test had happened.
"They washed out the shaft with water to remove any radioactivity. They then
filled it with cement, rocks and sand, and destroyed the entrance. They also
created a long river channel near the shaft entrance to drin off contaminated
Leone showed me a letter signed by Kamel that seemed to confirm the test. Written
in Arabic and dated September 19, 1989, it read: "With the help of God and
the effort of the heroic freedom fighters in the military industrialisation
institution and the atomic power organisation, we have successfully completed
Test Number One
of the Iraqi Atomic Bomb. Its strength was 10 kilotons and highly enriched
uranium was used with a purity of 93% . . . With this experiment Iraq is considered
the first country in the world to carry out this sort of experiment without
the knowledge of the international monitoring authorities."
I still had a problem with Leone's story. Iraq did not have the industrial
capacity to produce enough bomb-grade fissile material for a test. Leone said
the Iraqis had bought it on the black market.
"We had a purchasing department whose job was to buy highly enriched uranium.
Brazil purchased highly enriched uranium from South Africa and then delivered
it to Iraq. I am not talking about tons. It was between 20 and 50 kilograms.
France also supplied us secretly with highly enriched uranium after the Israelis
bombed the Osirak reactor in 1981."
The Rezzaza test, according to Leone, sealed the fate of the Observer journalist
Farzad Bazoft, who had been investigating the cause of a huge explosion at
a military complex south of Baghdad.
The Iranian-born reporter was arrested on September 15, four days before the
test date, after taking soil samples near the al-Qaqa facility, about 80km
from the test site. He was executed for espionage the following March.
I knew the Bazoft story well. In 1988 I had entered Iraqi Kurdistan and gathered
soil samples which proved that the Iraqi regime had used chemical weapons against
its own people. Bazoft had reportedly seen my film Winds of Death, which documented
this horrific crime, and attempted to emulate my methods, with tragic results.
"He was accused of working for a foreign intelligence agency," said Leone.
"The authorities were convinced he was trying to find out about the planned
Rezzaza test. This was a state secret of the highest importance and, once they
even suspected this, he was never going to be released."
In August 1990, Saddam invaded Kuwait. After his defeat in the ensuing Gulf
war, UN arms inspectors discovered an Iraqi crash programme to build a nuclear
bomb, known as PC3. But, according to Leone, they missed the most successful
part of the programme.
"They thought they had stopped the Iraqis from building the bomb, but they
overlooked the military organisation codenamed Group Four. This department
is a comprehensive section that was involved in assembling the bomb from the
beginning to the end. It was also involved in developing launching systems,
missile programmes, preparing uranium, purchasing it on the black market, smuggling
it back into Iraq."
Leone told me that Group Four successfully developed a gun-type device at the
nuclear weaponisation centre at al-Atheer. Unscom, the UN inspectorate, was
aware that the Iraqis were working on an implosion-type nuclear device there,
but knew nothing about Group Four. All evidence of its existence had been removed
before they arrived in Iraq, Leone said.
The Iraqis went to extraordinary lengths to protect their secrets. In one incident
on 1991, the UN nuclear weapons inspection team managed to film sensitive documents
listing names of key personnel in the nuclear programme. Leone claimed the
Iraqi official who allowed access, Adel Fayed, was later murdered.
"He was killed by knives in his home," said he. "They cut off his head. Everyone
knew that Saddam's cousin, Ali al-Takriti, was responsible. Nobody talked to
Unscom after this assassination."
To avoid Unscom detection, scientists from the main weaponisation groups were
spread throughout Iraq. Group Four was relocated in civilian aircraft factories
at Taji in the north of Baghdad. Using the factories as a front, they imported
"aircraft parts" from Russia and eastern Europe. These consignments often concealed
components for the nuclear programme.
Group Four also bought up American and Russian designs for gun-type nuclear
bombs. Leone alleged that these were acquired with help from India.
Leone said his pivotal job brought him into close contact with Khalid Ibrahim
Sayeed, Group Four's leader, a military engineer whom he met regularly to discuss
Another important bomb design organisation, Group Five, operated out of an
agricultural machinery factory near Mosul in northern Iraq, said Leone. Group
Five scientists worked on a thermonuclear device, he said. The components were
assembled at secret locations under Mount Hemrin, 140km northeast of Baghdad.
In 1993, Saddam awarded Group Five's leader, Dr Ahmed Abdul Jabar Shansal,
the Golden Sword of Mesopotamia (First Degree), the highest decoration in Iraq,
for completing work on a nuclear implosion bomb, a far more complex design
than the gun-type, Leone said. In 1995, Group Five was renamed the State Enterprise
for Extracting Industries.
Leone's disclosures were detailed, and his knowledge of personnel in the programme
was encyclopaedic. His bomb diagrams demonstrated specialist knowledge of nuclear
weapons. His most stunning claim, however, was that Iraq now possessed three
Hiroshima-type bombs, three implosion weapons and three thermonuclear weapons.
"I am certain about this," he said. "They are stored deep underground in a
bunker in the Hemrin mountains."
Having disgorged this information, Leone disappeared into the cold streets
of Sulaymaniyah. His evidence contradicted the claims of the International
Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iraq's nuclear weapons programme was more
or less dismantled after the Gulf war. Was he a hoaxer? I tracked down people
in Kurdistan who knew him and a picture began to emerge.
Leone had defected in the mid-1990s to the safe havens of northern Iraq. Seeking
sanctuary for his family, he had met officials from the West's four-nation
military co-ordinating centre. They flew him to Ankara to debrief him but never
gave him what he wanted: sanctuary in the West.
He tried to reach Europe through Ukraine and approached the British embassy
in Kiev. Diplomats arranged for experts from the IAEA to fly in to debrief
him, but Leone refused to co-operate when he realised they were unwilling to
provide visas for the West.
"There was no doubt he was genuine," said Arras Habib Kareem, who debriefed
him in Kurdistan for the opposition Iraqi National Congress (INC). "When other
Iraqi nuclear scientists came north they recognised him within seconds. He
knows a lot about the Iraqi nuclear programme. He knows about the test areas,
the facilities and the equipment the Iraqis used.
"He once provided me with a list of 200 names of people working in the programme,
with their rank and what each was doing - 90% of what he said was later confirmed
by other Iraqi scientists who defected."
Seeking expert advice, I turned to Dr Frank Barnaby, the former nuclear weapons
scientist who vouchsafed the authenticity of Mordechai Vanunu's evidence of
the Israeli bomb programme in 1986. I asked him to assess Leone's drawing of
the 1989 test device.
"The design is unusual, but I see no reason why it shouldn't work if it is
well engineered," Barnaby said. "I find it impressive. All the nuclear physics
he is talking about is reasonable. He has to be taken seriously because he
is obviously competent. The very least we are dealing with here is a radiological
bomb, a nuclear weapon in its own right, which Iraq was suspected of developing."
Could it be a hoax? "If it were, Leone would use a more standard design, not
invent an unusual one," replied Barnaby. He described Leone's disclosures as
more dramatic than Vanunu's, because they contained more detailed information
about weapon design.
If Leone was telling the truth, surely the blast would have been detected by
Officials at the International Seismic Centre near Newbury said detecting an
event of this size - about 2.7 on the Richter scale - would be "extremely difficult"
in this region, especially if it had been decoupled, as Leone claimed.
I visited Sulaymaniyah's local seismic station. It is 640km from the Rezzaza
site, and its director confirmed that its range was limited. "Whether we would
pick up an event 100 to 200km away would depend on its magnitude," he explained.
"If it's really big, we would record it. If it's small, then we may miss it."
Records from 1989 showed no trace of an event on September 19, but a map of
Iraq's main earthquake zones provided a potential clue. The Rezzaza region
is virtually earthquake-free, but the map showed one exception - a tremor marked
by a red circle on the southwestern shore of the lake, close to Leone's test
site. Nobody at the seismic station knew when this tremor occurred, except
that it was after 1985 and before 1991.
I needed corroboration from other defectors from Iraq's nuclear weapons programme.
Most were too scared to talk. One scientist living in northern Europe, who
had received a video from Baghdad of his sister being sexually abused by security
agents, refused to have anything to do with me.
But I tracked down a "Dr Imad" who had worked for Group Four, and persuaded
him to meet me in Denmark. The story he told, unprompted by me, fitted Leone's.
"There were two groups working on two different projects. One was the implosion
bomb under Dr Jafaar and the other the gun-type device, under Dr Khalid Ibrahim
Sayeed," Imad said "Dr Khalid headed Group Four."
Again echoing Leone, Imad continued: "The headquarters of both groups was at
al-Atheer, the nuclear weapons design centre south of Baghdad. The UN inspectors
only discovered one project there. They missed the Group Four programme, which
had the same funding but was far more successful. This was Iraq's best-kept
Imad was adamant that the Iraqis had conducted a nuclear test, although he
did not know where. "Group Four was working specifically on a Hiroshima-type
bomb. In 1986-87, they began to run computer simulation models, but I know
for a fact that in 1989 they fed in real test data."
"From an actual test?" I asked.
"From an actual test. They modified the model according to the test data. They
"So does Iraq have the bomb?"
"Iraq tested the bomb and they have it," he said.
He also described how a senior Iraqi scientist had brought the fuel from Brazil
in a private jet and was rewarded with money and land.
Imad's evidence meant that two former senior Iraqi scientists - one in Kurdistan
and the other in Denmark - had independently confirmed that an organisation
called Group Four not only existed but had successfully tested a gun-type atomic
bomb. If this was true, the UN inspection teams had missed half of Iraq's nuclear
programme. It was difficult to comprehend failure on such a massive scale.
Yet Unmovic, the UN agency that took over from Unscom after inspectors were
barred from Iraq in 1998, was completely in the dark about Group Four. Dr Hans
Blix, Unmovic's executive chairman, who also headed the IAEA for 16 years,
thought a nuclear test was improbable.
I turned to Dr David Kay, a former head of the UN nuclear inspection team.
He suspected that the Iraqis were working on a gun-type bomb and was not quite
so adamant in refusing to believe that one had been tested.
"One thing I've learnt in Iraq is that it is unwise to totally exclude anything,
because in fact the Iraqis spent a lot of money and got a lot of assistance
from other people. They were always trying to do it, and they did it under
totalitarian pressure. So people can occasionally do miraculous things," he
Kay knew of Group Four - he called it a "major weapons design group operating
under the auspices of Saddam himself" - but he had discovered few details about
It was Kay who uncovered Iraq's crash programme to build an implosion device.
He had been amazed at its size. "What we found was more or less an exact replica
of a crash US Manhattan Project during the second world war. The facilities
were large in number. I remember the initial briefing identified three or four
sites. There turned out to be more than 50. We now think there were somewhere
between 10,000 and 20,000 working on the programme. The best guess of costs
is somewhere in the order of $10 billion."
Late last year I turned to the most important Iraqi defector to reach Europe,
Abbas al-Janabi. He was personal assistant to Saddam's son, Uday, for 15 years,
was imprisoned eight times by his former boss and routinely tortured. He finally
fled the country with his family in 1998.
His cousin, Fadil al-Janabi, was high in the Iraqi nuclear programme and other
members of his clan were highly placed within Group Four. His response to my
probing was succinct. "A nuclear test was carried out - in 1988 or 1989 - in
an underground site beside Lake Rezzaza," he said.
He pointed out the test site on a map of Iraq. It was close to Leone's location.
"It's a military zone," he said. "I doubt whether UN inspectors ever visited
it." He himself had clambered down into a vast underground cavern.
He learnt of the successful test from Uday, who, he said, was unable to conceal
his jubilation. "They were talking about the test, about their ability to produce
a nuclear bomb. They were talking about a new powerful Iraq," said Janabi.
Was it definitely a nuclear test? "Definitely. There is no doubt about that.
It was a small nuclear test." Who had supplied the highly enriched uranium
for the bomb?South Africa, he said, via South America.
He claimed to know the person who had negotiated with the South Africans. "He
was talking about 50kg. Negotiations began in 1986 and the delivery was made
In the mid-1990s, on a Channel 4 investigation, I visited Valindaba, the facility
near Pretoria which produced South Africa's bomb-grade uranium. Officially,
I was told the plant never achieved its design output because of technical
problems. In its lifetime, it was said to have produced weapons-grade uranium
for only six or seven devices. But a plant supervisor let slip that it had
functioned flawlessly from 1976 until 1989. It could have produced enough for
20 simple uranium bombs.
So had South Africa sold off surplus stocks? I contacted a former intelligence
official under the apartheid regime who had helped procure components for his
country's nuclear weapons programme on the black market. "The story is true,"
he said. "About 50kg were sold to the Iraqis."
For the final stage of my investigation, I used the latest space technology.
I bought pictures of Lake Rezzaza taken in July 1989 - two months before the
claimed test - by a French Spot Image satellite and compared them with images
from the Indian IRS1D spacecraft shot in September 2000.
Professor Bhupendra Jasani of King's College, London, analysed them. He quickly
discovered the tunnel Leone and Abbas al-Janabi had told me about. It was 4km
long and 400 metres wide and stretched under Lake Rezzaza. Roads led from a
railway line to the shaft entrance, a huge rectangular structure. Many lorries
could have driven abreast into the tunnel.
To the southwest, Jasani found more evidence of an unusually sensitive military
zone - an army base with some 40 buildings, each 40 by 70 metres in size, and
a massive missile base nearby.
The September 2000 image showed that 60% of these buildings had been destroyed.
Jasani and I assumed this must have been in allied air attacks. When I mentioned
this to Leone, however, he said the Iraqis themselves had blown them up to
cover up the evidence. At the UN headquarters in New York, I showed my satellite
images to UN arms inspectors who confirmed they had never visited the western
shore of Lake Rezzaza.
The 2000 picture also provided a vital clue. The shaft entrance was destroyed
and the tunnel blocked up, exactly as Leone had told me. I got hold of a third
satellite picture from 1990, which revealed that this blocking had happened
before the Gulf war in January 1991.
"If you wanted to hide something, I guess this is exactly what you would do,"
But was it consistent with this being a nuclear test site? "The infrastructure
is certainly consistent with test activity. You require storage sites, vehicle
activities, communications systems like the train, railway tracks and roadworks.
All of those things you can certainly see on the image," said Jasani.
The tunnel and the entrance were huge and the manpower needed to block it up
massive. Leone had told me that thousands of political prisoners worked on
the tunnel after a presidential amnesty.
"They were well fed and lived in comfortable caravans. In return, they worked
hard. But none of them came out of it alive," he said. "Many were contaminated
with radioactive waste. Friends working for Iraqi security who were guarding
them said they were buried in caves nearby. The Iraqi regime hoped the secret
of the Rezzaza lake test would die with them.
"Hussein Kamel gave the order to kill these people . . . I was disgusted by
it and it's one of the major reasons I fled."
This grotesque story was corroborated by Imad. He said he was aware that political
prisoners who worked on the Rezzaza tunnel were massacred by Iraqi security
guards to conceal an unspecified secret military project. He did not know this
was the nuclear test site.
Last year Leone and his family finally reached the West with the help of the
UN refugee programme. Although comparatively safe, he fears reprisals. Last
week his brother was arrested in Iraq after the Anglo-American air raids.
Leone no longer needs to draw attention to himself to get help, yet he continues
to give more details of the bomb programme, insisting that his story is true.
Western intelligence sources, while recognising that he is well informed, continue
to insist that he and the other Iraqi sources I have spoken to are wrong about
the test. Personally, I think the evidence is compelling.
© Roberts & Wykeham 2001 - "Saddam's Bomb" will be broadcast on BBC2's Correspondent
programme at 6.20pm next Saturday