FBI counterterrorism chief believes bin Laden is dead

Associated Press WriterWASHINGTON (AP) -- FBI counterterrorism chief Dale Watson said Wednesday he believes Osama bin Laden is dead -- the first time a senior U.S. law enforcement official has publicly given an opinion on the al-Qaida leader's status.

Watson, speaking at a conference of law enforcement officials at a downtown hotel, quickly emphasized that he had no evidence that bin Laden was dead, but his comments suggest that the FBI has no intelligence that proves bin Laden is alive.

"Is (bin Laden) alive or is he dead?," Watson said. "I am not really sure of the answer....I personally think he is probably not with us anymore but I have no evidence to support that."

Watson also said that bin Laden's network of terrorist training camps has been dismantled, but "there is no question in my mind...we will be attacked again."

Watson, who rarely makes public appearances, is the top official for counterterrorism and counterintelligence in the FBI. He did not elaborate on his comments on bin Laden and rushed away from reporters after he spoke.

Since December, reports of bin Laden's whereabouts and well-being have been sporadic and from different sources.

Earlier this month, a London-based Arabic newspaper said Osama bin Laden was wounded in a U.S. bombing raid in Afghanistan last year but is in good health.

There was no way to verify the report in London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi. U.S. officials say they have no evidence bin Laden was wounded in the U.S. bombing of al-Qaida hideouts in Tora Bora, Afghanistan, late last year, but acknowledge it is a possibility.

The newspaper's editor said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press that bin Laden underwent surgery to remove shrapnel from his left shoulder.

Atwan told the AP on Monday that sources close to the al-Qaida leader "confirmed to me that the man is in good health" after recovering from the wound.

While the Bush administration has said publicly it does not know whether bin Laden is alive or dead, some U.S. counterterrorism officials have privately acknowledged they believe he is alive.

On Saturday, the head of Germany's Federal Intelligence Service, was quoted in the Welt am Sonntag newspaper as saying bin Laden is alive and hiding along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.