Officials skeptical of bin Laden report - East Valley Tribune: Nation / World

Officials skeptical of bin Laden report

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Posted: Saturday, September 23, 2006 10:30 pm | Updated: 5:04 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

PARIS - A leaked French intelligence document raises the possibility Osama bin Laden died of typhoid, but President Jacques Chirac said Saturday the report was "in no way whatsoever confirmed" and officials from Kabul to Washington expressed skepticism about its accuracy.

There have been numerous reports over the years that bin Laden had been killed or that he was dangerously ill, but the al-Qaida leader has periodically released audiotapes appealing to followers and commenting on current news events.

The regional French newspaper l'Est Republicain printed what it described as a copy of a confidential document from the DGSE intelligence service citing an uncorroborated report from a "usually reliable source" who said Saudi secret services were convinced that bin Laden had died.

The document, dated Thursday, was sent to Chirac and other top French officials, the newspaper said.

"This information is in no way whatsoever confirmed," Chirac said when asked about the document. "I have no comment."

Saudi Arabia's U.S. embassy said it had no evidence to support reports that Osama bin Laden is dead. "Information that has been reported otherwise is purely speculative and cannot be independently verified," the embassy said in a statement on its Web site.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she had "no comment and no knowledge" about the report, while presidential spokesman Blair Jones said the White House could not confirm the report's accuracy. But two U.S. intelligence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said U.S. agencies had no information to suggest bin Laden was dead or dying.

One of the U.S. intelligence officials said the report came from an unverified, unconfirmed source. If bin Laden were dead or dying, U.S. officials would expect to see telltale indicators that they are not seeing, the official said. The official did not explain what those indicators are, but such an event would probably trigger increased discussion among known extremists.

A senior official in Afghanistan's Foreign Ministry said he was very skeptical of the document, noting past false reports of the death of bin Laden. He would not let his name be used because he was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly.

Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S. Mahmud Ali Durrani told The Associated Press in an interview "everyone is speculating" about bin Laden.

"I think it would be very nice if we can confirm that he's dead," he said. "I don't think there's much truth to that," Durrani added. "If he were in Pakistan and we had firm intelligence, I can tell you with total certainty that we'd get him."

Many people suspect bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders are hiding in the Pakistani mountains along the border with Afghanistan.

Among previous reports, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said during the U.S.-led offensive that toppled Afghanistan's Taliban regime in late 2001 that he was "reasonably sure" bin Laden had been killed by U.S. bombing raids on the Tora Bora caves.

Bin Laden also was rumored to have kidney problems, but a physician detained by Pakistan on suspicion he was treating top Taliban and al-Qaida militants told AP in December 2002 that the al-Qaida leader was in excellent health when the physician saw him a year earlier.

The Washington-based IntelCenter, which monitors terrorism communications, said it was not aware of reports on the Internet speculating about bin Laden and a life-threatening illness.

"We've seen nothing from any al-Qaida messaging or other indicators that would point to the death of Osama bin Laden," IntelCenter director Ben N. Venzke told AP.

Al-Qaida would likely release information of bin Laden's death fairly quickly if it were true, said Venzke, whose organization also provides counterterrorism intelligence services for the U.S. government.

"They would want to release that to sort of control the way that it unfolds. If they wait too long, they could lose the initiative on it," he said.

IntelCenter said the last time it could be sure bin Laden was alive was June 29, when al-Qaida released an audiotaped eulogy for al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed by a U.S. air strike in Iraq earlier that month.

Chirac spoke at a news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Compiegne, France, where the leaders were meeting.

Putin suggested leaks can be ways to manipulate. "When there are leaks ... one can say that (they) were done especially," he said.

Chirac said he was "a bit surprised" at the leak and had asked Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie to investigate how the document was published.

The document from DGSE, or Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure, indicated the information came from a single source.

"The chief of al-Qaida was a victim of a severe typhoid crisis while in Pakistan on August 23, 2006," the document said. His geographic isolation meant medical assistance was impossible, the French report said, adding that his lower limbs were allegedly paralyzed.

According to the document, Saudi security services were pursuing further details, notably the place of bin Laden's burial.

When asked about the report during an appearance in Montreal, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said that if proven true, it would be "good news" for the entire world.

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