LONDON: Algeria with the Chinese help is taking the lead in the race to join Pakistan in manufacturing an Islamic bomb according to British intelligence reports.

The secret project is in the foothills of the Adas Mountains about 165 miles south of Algiers inside a military exclusion zone and is close to a Soviet-built-anti-aircraft battery and an airbase at the town of Oussera “The Sunday Times” reported.

‘The area is patrolled by soldiers and protected by a high fence with signs in French and Arabic warning against photography the report said

The report said British Prime Minister John Major will be given details of the programme this week after it has been discussed by the cabinet office’s joint intelligence committee consisting of white-hall officials and members of the Intelligence Services M15 and M16 and will be told that the north African state is planning enough plutonium to make one nuclear weapon a year by 1998.

The British Foreign Office is concerned that Algeria will take the lead in the race to join Pakistan in building an Islamic bomb. The cabinet is expected to discuss possible diplomatic action “The Sunday Times” report said.

According to the report Britain’s role in uncovering the programme became clear only when a senior diplomat was expelled from Algeria earlier this month after photographing a secret nuclear plant.

The British Foreign office initially tried to play down the significance of the incident but intelligence sources have confirmed that the diplomat was seeking information about Algier’s nuclear capabilities the report said.

Group Captain William Cross Britain’s military attache to Algeria was expelled on April 10 soon after being caught near the plant with a camera.

Algerian sources said he was arrested by security officials and his film was confiscated Cross was released after claiming diplomatic immunity.

A former raf pilot he is understood to have been trying to get close-up photographs of the Oussera plant and its surroundings. His expulsion was first reported by the Algerian state news agency two weeks ago No mention was made of the nuclear plant.

The British Foreign office in a statement said he had been recalled “for operational reasons” adding “as far as we’re concerned he didn’t do anything that we would consider incompatible with his status”.

The report said the recent statements by the Algerian government have made it clear that the country does want to join “the nuclear club”.

Algerian politicians have reportedly pointed out that the outcome of the gulf war could have been very different if Saddam Hussein had used nuclear weapons.

Article extracted from this publication >> May 3, 1991