Abdul Qadeer Khan, revered at home as the “father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb” and accused of illegally sharing nuclear technology with Iran, Libya and North Korea, has died at 85, it was announced Sunday.
The Pakistani atomic scientist was hailed as a national hero for transforming his country into the world’s first Islamic nuclear power, but regarded by the West as a dangerous renegade responsible for smuggling technology to rogue states, including Iran.
Khan had been hospitalized with COVID-19. He died after being transferred to the KRL Hospital in Islamabad with lung problems, state-run broadcaster PTV reported.
Khan had been admitted to the same hospital in August with COVID-19, it said. After being permitted to return home several weeks ago, he was transferred back after his condition deteriorated.
Pakistan’s President Arif Alvi said in a tweet he was “deeply saddened to learn about the passing of Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan,” whom he had known personally since 1982.
“He helped us develop nation-saving nuclear deterrence and a grateful nation will never forget his services.”
Khan was lauded for bringing the nation up to par with arch-rival India in the atomic field and making its defenses “impregnable.”
But he found himself in the international crosshairs when he was accused of illegally sharing nuclear technology with Iran, Libya and North Korea.
Khan was placed under effective house arrest in the capital Islamabad in 2004 after he admitted running a proliferation network to the three countries.
According to a 2018 Washington Post report, Iran is known to have obtained assistance in building uranium-enrichment centrifuges from Khan, who was also believed by US intelligence to have given “partial blueprints for a Chinese nuclear device to at least one of his international customers.”
According to reporters from the newspaper who viewed the archive of nuclear documents seized by the Israeli Mossad from a Tehran warehouse in 2018, detailing Iran’s program to build nuclear weapons, Tehran obtained “explicit weapons-design information from a foreign source.”
“We see explicit material related to nuclear weapons from different sources, some of it not Iranian in origin,” an Israeli intelligence official told the newspaper. Israeli officials would not say whether the bomb design information was provided by a state or by an individual.
“Iran had foreign help, though Israeli officials held back any documents indicating where it came from,” said the New York Times, whose reporters also saw the trove of documents. “Much was clearly from Pakistan, but officials said other foreign experts were also involved — though they may not have been working for their governments.”
In 2006 Khan was diagnosed with prostate cancer, but recovered after surgery.
A court ended his house arrest in February 2009, but Khan’s movements were strictly guarded, and he was accompanied by authorities every time he left his home in an upscale sector of leafy Islamabad.