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SHOW: NBC Nightly News 6:30 AM EST NBC October 29, 2004

Pentagon releases satellite photos of trucks in front of Al-Qaqaa bunker



TOM BROKAW, anchor:

Iraq tonight, new evidence that could help solve the mystery of the missing tons of explosives, a mystery that's been an issue all week on the campaign trail. The central questions are: Were the explosives removed before or after the Americans took charge in Iraq? Why weren't they secured? And where are those explosives now? NBC's Pentagon corespondent Jim Miklaszewski with new pictures that could provide some answers or raise new questions.


It's the most compelling evidence yet that some of the missing high explosive HMX was still in its bunkers after the war began and US troops arrived at the Al-Qaqaa weapons facility. Video shot by KSTP-TV of Minneapolis on April 18th, 2003, shows soldiers from the 101 Airborne examining barrels full of white powder marked `explosives.' That's two weeks after US troops first arrived there. It appeared one bunker was still under seal by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Agency officials tell NBC News, the seal on the video was definitely theirs, and they believe the materials in the bunkers was HMX. Boxes marked as water bottles are identical to boxes containing HMX as seen in this earlier Iraqi video.

There's still a critical gap between March 8th when the IAEA last inspected the weapons bunkers and May 8th, when US military inspectors declared the high explosives were missing. The Pentagon tried to fill in that gap today. Major Austin Pearson said on April 13th, his unit destroyed 250 tons of explosives at Al-Qaqaa but couldn't say it included HMX.

Major AUSTIN PEARSON: I don't know. I don't have that information.

Offscreen Voice: And let me help you with that.

MIKLASZEWSKI: But that didn't stop Vice President Dick Cheney today from going a step further.

Vice President DICK CHENEY: They seized and destroyed some 250 tons of ammunition which included in that amount some significant portion of the explosives in question.

MIKLASZEWSKI: The Pentagon also released a satellite photo taken two days before the start of the war showing large trucks next to a bunker, suggesting they were moving something. But maps from the Atomic Energy Agency showed this bunker was not one that contained the now missing HMX.

Mr. JOHN PIKE (Weapons Expert): There is a bunker at the complex with the explosive material. It's just not the bunker that the truck is in front of.

MIKLASZEWSKI: Pentagon officials say they're only trying to provide as many facts as possible about what may have happened at Al-Qaqaa. But each attempt raises more questions than answers. Jim Miklaszewski, NBC News, the Pentagon.

Copyright 2004, National Broadcasting Co. Inc.