LONDON - Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network was investigating the use of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons against the West and had experimented on animals, a British newspaper reports.

The Times said the information emerged from detailed examination of documents it discovered in abandoned al Qaeda houses in the Afghan capital, Kabul, after it fell on November 13.

The documents proved al Qaeda was studying how to produce botulin poison in batches strong enough to kill 2000 people.

The hundreds of pages of photocopied, handwritten and printed matter were in a mixture of Arabic, Urdu, Persian, Mandarin, Russian and English.

Samples were photographed and sent to British-based professional translators with scientific qualifications, and to experts in the field of weapons of mass destruction.

The Times said they confirmed that al Qaeda cells were examining materials to make a low-grade, "dirty" nuclear device.

Al Qaeda would not have been able to make a large-scale missile or nuclear device on the evidence of the documents, but it was was ready to use such weapons if it could get them.

One section described how chemical weapons were tested on rabbits. The animals died when subjected to cyanide and sodium.

The documents also showed that al Qaeda was training units to assassinate Middle Eastern leaders sympathetic to the West.

The Times said documents discovered by British and United States agents in Kandahar and Jalalabad suggested that 40 Britons were given training at al Qaeda camps.

In other developments:

* Pakistan's central bank has frozen the personal bank accounts of two nuclear scientists and an industrialist suspected of having links with bin Laden.

The three are Bashiruddin Mahmood and Abdul Majeed and industrialist Mohammad Tufail. All were on the board of Umma Tameer-e-Nau, an Islamic charity which the US has declared a terrorist group.

Mahmood and Majeed, who retired from the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission in 1998, were detained by Pakistani authorities in November but have since been freed.

Government spokesmen have said the two scientists had nothing to do with Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme and could not have passed any nuclear secrets to bin Laden when they visited Afghanistan during the rule of the ousted Taleban regime.

* Poisonous gas was pumped for a third day into a US Senate building to kill trace amounts of anthrax spores in the heating and ventilation system.

The southeast quadrant of the Hart Senate Office Building has been closed since October 17, two days after an aide to Senate majority leader Tom Daschle opened an anthrax-tainted letter.

It was one of several such letters sent to US politicians and media outlets after the September 11 suicide hijackings.

The intentionally tainted letters, which have not been linked to the September 11 attacks, unleashed a bioterrorism scare worldwide.

Of the 18 confirmed cases of anthrax infection, five have died - two postal workers in Washington, a Florida newspaper editor, an elderly Connecticut woman and a New York hospital worker.

- REUTERS

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