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French president: Leaked document's accuracy not confirmed

Sunday, September 24, 2006

By ELAINE GANLEY

The Associated Press

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 Interior Ministry offered no details. "I've heard the reports, but I have no information at all. I have no idea," spokesman Mansour al-Turki said.

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.

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 declined to let his name be used because he was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly.

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Tasnim Aslam, called the information "speculative," saying his government had no information on bin Laden.

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.


Associated Press writers Katherine Shrader and Deb Riechmann in Washington, Anne Gearan in New York, Lauren Frayer in Cairo, Egypt, and Phil Courvette in Montreal contributed to this story.


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