| Osama: Dead or alive'
Sept. 23: A leaked foreign intelligence document published in a French newspaper today set off a loud buzz that Osama bin Laden may have died of typhoid in Pakistan last month, but no country would confirm anything.
Reports of bin Laden’s death or illness have cropped up off and on, but none has been proved right.
The regional newspaper 'Est Republicain printed what it described as a copy of a confidential document from the DGSE intelligence service, citing an uncorroborated report from the Saudi secret services that the leader of al Qaida terror network had died.
“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 help was impossible and his lower limbs were paralysed, it claimed.
Saudi security services had their first information on bin Laden’s alleged death on September 4 and were pursuing further details, notably the place of his burial, it added.
Neither France nor the US, which has made capturing bin Laden a priority in its war on terrorism, could confirm that he had died.
French President Jacques Chirac said he was “a bit surprised” at the leak and asked defence minister Michele Alliot-Marie to probe how a document from a French foreign intelligence service was published in the French press.
“This information is in no way whatsoever confirmed,” he said. “I have no comment.”
The Direction Generale des Services Exterieurs transmitted the document, dated September 21, to Chirac and other top French officials, the paper said.
Pakistan rebutted the report of bin Laden dying on its soil. “This is rubbish,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Tasneem Aslam said. “Like other countries, Pakistan is clueless about him.”
The death buzz, ironically, broke a day after President Pervez Musharraf met George W. Bush and renewed his commitment to “bring bin Laden to justice as and when he is found”. Bush yesterday said he “believed Musharraf”.
The US state department spokesman Sean McCormack said: “We don’t have any confirmation of that report.”
An American intelligence official came closer to an outright denial. “We’ve heard these things before and have no reason to think this is any different. There’s just nothing we can point to, to say this report has any more credence than other reports we’ve seen in the past.”
The Saudi interior ministry declined comment.