Pakistan Nuke Proliferator Released, Says, 'I Damn Don't Care' What Critics Think

Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani scientist considered the largest nuclear proliferator in history, was released from home confinement today and lashed out at the West for the first time.

"Are they happy with our God? Are they happy with our prophet? Are they happy with our leaders? Never," Khan, 72, told a group of journalists outside his home, just minutes after a court ruled he was free to move around the country. "So why should we bother what they say about us?

"I would be more worried what you [the media] say about me," Khan said. "Not what Bush says or Dick Cheney says. I damn don't care."

In Pakistan, Khan is a hero, the man who created the world's only Islamic nuclear state. But in 2004, he admitted selling nuclear technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya, and has been mostly restricted to his home in an upscale area of Islamabad ever since.

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Just a few weeks ago, the U.S. sanctioned Khan as well as 12 colleagues and three companies linked to his proliferation work to "prevent future proliferation-related activities."

"We believe A.Q. Khan remains a serious proliferation risk," State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said in Washington today. "The proliferation support that Khan and his associates provided to Iran and North Korea has had a harmful impact on ... international security, and will for years to come."

Pakistan has never allowed Western officials to question Khan. And there were signs that the United States bristled at the news of his release, which was secured by the Interior Ministry and then conveyed through an Islamabad court. The United States was not informed about the ruling before it occurred.

Until today, the scientist was not known for speaking ill of the West.

Asked by ABC News what he would say to those who argue he has made the world more dangerous, Khan replied, "I don't care about the rest of the world. I care about my country.

"Obama cares about America -- not about Pakistan, or India, Afghanistan, or anyone else," he said. "I have made Pakistan a safer place. That you are standing here and talking, and India not blowing on your neck, this is my contribution."

For years, Khan has been removed from Pakistan's nuclear program, even before his 2004 admission. But many today expressed a fear that letting his house arrest expire is tantamount to encouraging other nuclear proliferators.

"His release is not going to make a material difference. On the other hand, it could make a psychological one," said Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, the chairman of the physics department at Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad. "If the penalties for spreading weapons are going to be slight, well, I guess other people could also do it."

Khan has been accused of running a nuclear smuggling ring that offered "one-stop shopping for a nuclear arsenal," in the words of David Albright, the president of the Institute for Science and International Security and a former U.N. weapons inspector.

The U.S. accuses Khan of providing Iran and Libya with the components and designs for centrifuges, which are required to produce highly enriched uranium -- one of the most difficult ingredients involved in the creation of a nuclear weapon. In some cases, the U.S. has said, Khan provided Iran and Libya with entire centrifuges.

The U.S. has also accused Khan of providing designs, equipment and technology to North Korea.

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