In sworn testimony an unnamed former soldier from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has told investigators looking into the murders of two Congolese opposition figures in France in December 2000 that he attended a meeting earlier that year at which the uranium was sold, the Lyon-based Le Progres reported.

The man "described a meeting which took place on 3 March in (the German city of) Hamburg between some Congolese men and an Egyptian by the name of Ibrahim Abd," the newspaper said.

It quoted the man as saying, "I realised it was al-Qaida."

According to Le Progres, the Egyptian was able to acquire two bars of enriched uranium 138.

Dirty bomb

Only highly enriched uranium can be used in the manufacture of an atomic bomb, but anti-terrorist experts take more seriously the threat of a "dirty bomb", in which radioactive material is disseminated via a conventional explosive.

The unnamed source spoke of the purchase in December 2002 in an affidavit to German police, who passed it to their French counterparts. The evidence is part of the dossier compiled by the team looking into the deaths of the two Congolese opposition figures.

Coup money

According to Le Progres, the man is himself close to Congolese opposition circles and told the German investigators that the money paid for the uranium was needed to finance a putsch against late DRC president Laurent-Desire Kabila.

The man has been interviewed by the American and French security services, but could give no information on the source of the uranium, the paper said.

The burned bodies of Philemon Naluhwindza and Aime Atenbina were found not far from Lyon in December 2000. An official close to the investigation confirmed to AFP that they had been seeking funds for a coup attempt against Kabila.