ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Abdul Qadeer Khan, the man revered as a national hero as the father of Pakistan’s atomic bomb, might have been involved in the transfer of nuclear-weapons technology to Iran, Pakistani authorities say.
Yesterday, officials in Islamabad confirmed that they had detained some of Mr. Khan’s senior aides for questioning.
“So far, our investigations indicate that only one man is behind this alleged transfer. It is wrong to blame an entire nation for the mistakes of an individual,” a senior Pakistani official told United Press International after the detentions.
Without naming Mr. Khan, the official said, “We gave him the status of a national hero when he did something for the country, but now if he makes a mistake, he will have to pay for his mistake as well.”
Mr. Khan and some of his associates already have been questioned about suspected involvement in selling bomb-making know-how to Iran.
Pakistan denies detaining its nuclear scientists for questioning, but says several have been “debriefed.”
Masud Khan, a spokesman for the Pakistan Foreign Office, who is not related to the scientist, said it was wrong to “presume” that those being debriefed were guilty.
“Some of them could also be cleared,” he said.
The investigations, he said, were being conducted under Pakistani laws and “those who have not violated these should have no fears whatsoever.”
Pakistan has been investigating the export of nuclear technology and equipment to Iran since early last month, when U.S. news organizations first reported the proliferation.
Quoting officials at the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, several U.S. newspapers reported that Iran clandestinely had received centrifuges and other nuclear know-how from its Islamic neighbor Pakistan.
Tehran has acknowledged having centrifuge designs similar to those used in Pakistan but denied receiving them from Islamabad.
Pakistan denied the government in Islamabad might have been involved in the transfer, but said some scientists might have handed over nuclear equipment to Iran “out of personal ambition or greed.”
Those detained yesterday included Islam-ul Haq, a retired major of the Pakistan army who has been Mr. Khan’s senior aide since at least May 1998 when Pakistan exploded nuclear devices after similar tests by arch rival India.