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Ridge: Nuclear weapons documents found

Bin Laden
Bin Laden reportedly told a Pakistani newspaper he could use nuclear and chemical weapons.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Authorities have found nuclear weapons-related documents in an al Qaeda safehouse in Afghanistan, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge confirmed Thursday, a discovery made even more significant in light of Taliban threats to bring about the "destruction of America."

The discovery underscores that the United States has to be prepared for a variety of terrorist threats, Ridge said. At the same time, the former Pennsylvania governor downplayed the material's significance, saying much of it could have been taken off the Internet years ago.

"The fact that we have discovered (suspected terrorist Osama) bin Laden's associates or al Qaeda had some materials relative to a nuclear threat is certainly consistent with his statements that he would like to acquire that capacity," Ridge told reporters after a tour of the Energy Department with Secretary Spencer Abraham.

"That does not confirm that he has the capacity," he added. "It just says that whether it's bin Laden or some other potential foes of this country, we have to be prepared for all eventualities, including a nuclear threat."

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The reports came on the heels of threats made by Taliban and al Qaeda leaders of upcoming attacks against the United States.

In an interview with released Thursday, Taliban ruler Mullah Mohammed Omar told the BBC's Pashtu language service that "the current situation in Afghanistan is related to a bigger cause -- the destruction of America."

"The plan is going ahead and God willing it is being implemented, but it is a huge task beyond the will and comprehension of human beings," he said, according to the BBC. "If God's help is with us this will happen within a short period of time."

Earlier this week, a Pakistani newspaper quoted bin Laden as saying, "I wish to declare that if America used chemical or nuclear weapons against us, then we may retort with chemical and nuclear weapons. We have the weapons as a deterrent."

While citing "credible indications" bin Laden has sought to obtain such weapons, Bush administration officials said they do not believe the al Qaeda leader has weapons of mass destruction or the means to deliver them.

Several Pakistani nuclear scientists have also met with the Taliban in recent years, according to Pakistani sources.

Ridge conceded that the apparent success of the military campaign against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan -- which has harbored bin Laden -- raises the risk of future terrorist attacks.

"I think it makes a great deal of common sense to conclude that if you are putting pressure on your enemy in one area or one venue, they may choose to act out in a separate area or different venue," Ridge said. "So that is one consideration that obviously is in play, but I think that are our state of readiness and wariness is as high as it's ever been."


• U.S. Department of Energy

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