End for bin Laden remains uncertainty

Sunday, December 16, 2001

WASHINGTON -- Theories about how the end might come for Osama bin Laden will soon get their test if fighters in the Afghan mountains are right in their belief he is still there.

Various scenarios are in play, any one of which might result in his death. There is, most obviously, the increasingly focused torrent of U.S. bombs, combined with slowly progressing ground forces.

Some familiar with the ways of terrorists say bin Laden might die by his own hand, or by request to a trusted lieutenant, if faced with death from "infidels."

Suicide is forbidden by Islamic law. But more radical groups interpret the Quran to sanction suicide missions against enemies to gain martyrdom.

Arab press reports have suggested bin Laden has sought and received an edict from clergy close to him, permitting him to take his life if he faces capture or death from enemies.

The challenge of hunting al-Qaida fighters in caves is compounded by the difficulty of figuring out who is dead among the chambers.

Bodies found after a raid provide ready verification. But confirmation of bin Laden's death could take some time if he is killed in a bomb strike that leaves behind mass casualties, or if he commits suicide in a secret or inaccessible area.

One distinctive body feature being kept in mind by U.S. officials: bin Laden's height, about 6 feet, 5 inches.

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