Did al-Qaeda Do This?

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In a video belonging to Osama bin Laden, chemical weapons are tested on a dog

The footage is sickening to watch. A young dog rests against a wall, a flowing green scarf tied around its neck. The camera catches the leg of a man in the room, wearing Afghan-style pants and slippers. Two men are speaking softly in Arabic. "Let?s do this fast," says one. As they leave, a thin cloud of white smoke crawls into the picture. The dog stands on all fours, but its legs buckle. As the vapor rises, the dog topples onto its side, shrieking and writhing. For the next minute, the video shows the dog in the throes of death; the animal moans until finally its shaking tail falls still.

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The video—which goes on to record the apparent killing of two more puppies—is the most shocking footage from a cache of 64 videotapes obtained in Afghanistan by CNN correspondent Nic Robertson and viewed by TIME last week.

The Afghans who supplied the tapes told Robertson the video trove was recovered from a house formerly used by senior al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden. If the tape of the dog dying was indeed produced by al-Qaeda, it provides the first publicly available visual evidence that the group has tested chemical agents on live subjects. John Gilbert, a former U.N. and Pentagon chemical-weapons inspector who viewed the tapes, says the dog?s spasmodic reaction indicates that it might have been subjected to a nerve gas like sarin.

Bin Laden is known to have tried to develop unconventional weapons: U.S. intelligence officials assert that while living in Sudan in the early ?90s, he tested nerve agents that could be dispensed by bombs or artillery shells. In early 2000, CIA Director George Tenet warned that bin Laden "operatives have trained to conduct attacks with toxic chemicals or biological toxins." The new video suggests how close they may be to pulling them off.