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Saudis dismiss Laden ‘speculation’

Washington, Sept. 24 (Reuters): Saudi Arabia said today it had no evidence that Osama bin Laden had died, shedding further doubt on a secret document leaked in France that said Saudi secret services believed he had died last month.

France, the US and Britain have said they were unable to confirm the report in French regional daily L’Est Republicain which quoted France’s DGSE foreign intelligence service as saying the Saudi secret services were convinced the al Qaida leader had died of typhoid in Pakistan in late August.

Time magazine separately posted an article on its website citing an unidentified Saudi source, who claimed bin Laden was stricken with a water-borne disease and may already be dead.

The Saudi embassy in Washington, however, issued a statement saying: “The kingdom of Saudi Arabia has no evidence to support recent media reports that Osama bin Laden is dead. Information that has been reported otherwise is purely speculative and cannot be independently verified.”

French President Jacques Chirac told reporters bin Laden’s death “has not been confirmed in any way whatsoever and so I have no comment to make” and that he was surprised a confidential note had been published. France has launched a probe into the leak.

“No comment, no knowledge,” said US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice when asked about the French article by reporters in New York.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, asked in a BBC interview if he could shed light on the report, said: “No, I can’t. I haven’t heard anything that indicates that might be the case.”

A US intelligence source said Washington, which wants to capture bin Laden, had no evidence the report was any more credible than earlier rumours of his death.

“We’ve heard these things before and have no reason to think this is any different,” said the US intelligence official, who asked not to be named.

L’Est Republicain, published in Nancy, printed what it said was a copy of the report, dated September 21, and said it was passed to Chirac and Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin the same day.

“According to a usually reliable source, the Saudi services are now convinced that Osama bin Laden is dead,” it read.

“The information gathered by the Saudis indicates that the head of al Qaida fell victim, while he was in Pakistan on August 23, 2006, to a very serious case of typhoid that led to a partial paralysis of his internal organs.”

Saudi-born bin Laden was based in Afghanistan until its Taliban government was overthrown by US-backed forces after al Qaida’s September 11 attacks on the US.

Since then, US and Pakistani officials have said they believe he is hiding somewhere on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Bin Laden is rumoured to have been suffering from kidney ailments and receiving dialysis treatment. His last videotaped message was released in late 2004 but several low-quality audio tapes have been released this year.

Rumours of Osama’s death

December 2001: Pakistan newspaper says Osama had died of lung disease and was buried in Tora Bora
January 2002: Essam Darez, an Egyptian writer who spent time with Osama in Afghanistan between 1986 and 1990, says he was 99 per cent certain the al Qaida leader was killed by bombing in Afghanistan’s caves Pakistan describes as absurd a report Osama secretly underwent dialysis in a Pakistani hospital a day before the 9/11 attacks
January 2003: Pervez Musharraf says intelligence services believed Osama was dead
September 2006: French regional daily L’Est Republicain quotes French foreign intelligence service as saying the Saudi secret services were convinced Osama had died of typhoid in Pakistan

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