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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two Iraqi scientists were shot in Baghdad after they talked to the U.S.-led team hunting weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and others believe they will be in danger if they collaborate in the search, Washington's chief weapons inspector David Kay said on Friday.
Kay, who is directing the WMD hunt as an adviser to the CIA, presented an interim report to U.S. lawmakers this week that said no banned weapons had yet been found.
Some Iraqi scientists have sought relocation in the United States out of fear for the safety of their families, and others who want to stay in Iraq seek security guarantees, Kay told reporters on a conference call. "They believe they are in genuine danger ... if they collaborate with us," he said.
One scientist was "assassinated literally hours after meeting" with a member of the WMD-hunting team, killed by a single shot to the back of his head outside his apartment, Kay said. There were no signs of robbery.
Another scientist, who was "really golden for us," was shot six times but survived, he said. Kay declined to name them.
"The scientist who took six bullets was ... key to starting our understanding of the biological weapons program and pointing us in the direction of others," he said. His nephew was also shot in the incident a month and a half ago, Kay said.
"We engaged in a lot of conversations with him. We perhaps were not as sensitive to his security needs as now in retrospect we realize we should have been," he said.
"It's very difficult to conduct clandestine meetings in Iraq when you have to go pick people up because ... transport was hard to come by."
But Kay said cooperation from Iraqis, inside and outside detention, has increased. "This is an intelligence-led operation, we are absolutely dependent on the cooperation of Iraqis to help us discover the complete truth about the WMD programs," he noted.
SURPRISED AT NO FIND
During the war launched in March, Kay said he had feared that the Iraqi military would use chemical weapons on U.S.-led forces and was surprised that no such weapons were found soon afterward.
"I think all of us who entered Iraq expected the job of actually discovering deployed weapons to be easier than it has turned out to be," he said.
Kay was also surprised by an extensive lab network found embedded in the Iraqi Intelligence Service, which was not declared to U.N. inspectors and the extent to which Iraq had moved ahead in its missile program.
The WMD hunters have about five to six hypotheses about why the banned weapons have not been found, Kay said.
They include that WMD or related material were moved to another country before war, hidden by people involved in the current resistance, or produced outside Iraq through "off-shore collaboration" -- a theory with "very little evidence."
Some Iraqis also contend that scientists deceived Saddam Hussein, by lying to the former Iraqi leader about conducting WMD activities so they could be rewarded, Kay said, adding: "The evidence for that one is also shaky."
Asked whether he believed WMD would eventually be found, Kay replied: "We're not out to prove anyone's brief or any reports, we're out to find the full truth about it and that's what I'm convinced we will do."
The team is also gathering information about foreign assistance to Iraq, which was mainly in the missile area and some dual-use areas, that involved North Korea and some European countries which he declined to identify.
It is also investigating multiple reports from Iraqis of WMD or weapons-related substances being moved across borders into Iran, Syria and Jordan.
"We have in several of the cases confirmed that there were actually movements on the date, on the route, to the locations they have identified," Kay said, adding that his team had no proof that it was WMD material being moved.
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