Britain accused of falsifying 'terror lab' claims to justify deployment

  • From: "Muslim News" <editor@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <submit@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sun, 24 Mar 2002 17:25:12 -0000

Story of find in Afghan cave 'was made up' to justify sending marines 

Britain was accused last night of falsely claiming that al-Qaeda
terrorists had built a 'biological and chemical weapons' laboratory in
Afghanistan to justify the deployment of 1,700 Royal Marines to fight
there. 
The allegation follows a Downing Street briefing by a senior official to
newspapers on Friday which claimed US forces had discovered a biological
weapons laboratory in a cave in eastern Afghanistan after fighting near
the city of Gardez this month. 

A 'senior Whitehall source' gave detailed claims of how American
soldiers had found the cave following heavy fighting for al-Qaeda
positions around the village of Shah-e-Kot. 

One report quoted the source as saying: 'We know from documents found in
Kabul and the lab in the cave that Osama bin Laden has acquired a
chemical and biological weapons capability.' 

The newspapers reported that the find was one of the main reasons the
Government had decided to send the Marines to Afghanistan to fight
al-Qaeda and Taliban forces. The claim, carried by a number of
newspapers yesterday, was denied emphatically last night by Pentagon and
State Department sources. 

A White House spokesman, drawn into the row, said 'no evidence' had yet
been uncovered in Afghanistan that Al Qaeda had succeeded in producing
anthrax or other biological or chemical agents. 

A Pentagon official told The Observer there was no intelligence to
support claims from London that al-Qaeda was developing biological
weapons in the Shah-e-Kot area. 'I don't know what they're saying in
London but we have received no specific intelligence on that kind of
development or capability in the Shah-e-Kot valley region - I mean a
chemical or biological weapons facility,' said an official in the Army
department in Washington. 

The US rebuttal came as Opposition spokesmen demanded that Defence
Secretary Geoff Hoon address the House of Commons to 'clarify' the
claims, amid growing backbench unrest about the way in which the
decision to send the marines was made. 

The first of them are due to arrive in Kabul in the next few days to
join US combat troops already fighting on the ground, amid concern among
MPs about the 'open ended' nature of their mission. 

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Menzies Campbell, who called
for Hoon to make a statement, said: 'The House will feel, with some
justification, that this claim was leaked to the media to justify the
deployment after the event. 

'There are too many unanswered questions about the military
justification for this deployment and growing unease. Mr Hoon owes the
House a clarification." 

The Tories demanded that Downing Street stick strictly to the truth in
its efforts to promote the military campaign. 'Spinning doesn't work for
the NHS, so why do they think it is going to work for the war on
terrorism?' said Bernard Jenkin, Shadow Defence Secretary. 

Doubts about the story surfaced almost immediately after it was
published, as US officials first expressed bafflement and then denied
any such lab had been found. Some speculating to the New York Times that
the story might have been planted to justify the deployment of the
marines. British intelligence, Ministry of Defence and Foreign Office
sources denied any knowledge of the lab. 

The only evidence of a biological weapons laboratory was the discovery
last December of an abandoned, half-finished building containing medical
equipment, near the Taliban's former power base of Kandahar in southern
Afghanistan. This had been reported previously. 

The Observer has established that the source of the claims was an
off-the-record briefing by Tony Blair's senior foreign policy adviser,
David Manning. 

A Downing Street spokesman said it 'stuck by the thrust of the story' -
that it had evidence al-Qaeda was 'interested' in acquiring such
weapons. But Manning had 'not actually told' reporters a cave lab had
been discovered. 

Source:  The Observer

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