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No evidence bin Laden is dead - Saudi Arabia

Reuters | September 24 2006

Saudi Arabia said on Sunday 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 and the United States said on Saturday they could not 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 Qaeda leader had died of typhoid in Pakistan in late August.
Time magazine separately posted an article on its Web site 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 how the document was leaked.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters in New York, "No comment, no knowledge," when asked about the French article.

A U.S. intelligence source separately said Washington, which has made capturing bin Laden a priority in its war on terrorism, had no evidence the report was any more credible than earlier rumours of his demise.

"We've heard these things before and have no reason to think this is any different," said the U.S. intelligence official, who asked not to be named.

TYPHOID

L'Est Republicain, published in Nancy, printed what it said was a copy of the report, dated September 21, and said it had been 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 Qaeda 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."

Time magazine said its source claimed Saudi officials have received a number of reports in recent weeks that bin Laden had been struck by a water-borne illness and was likely dead but had no solid proof.

There was scepticism about whether Riyadh was well-placed to be the first to pick up on such a development.

"If anyone was in the picture, I doubt it would be Saudi intelligence," a Western diplomat in Riyadh said.

"Even if Saudi Arabia had information, they'd pass it on to the United States, not France. It doesn't ring true."

A senior Pakistani government official said Islamabad had received no information from any foreign government that would corroborate the story.

The Saudi-born bin Laden was based in Afghanistan until its Taliban government was overthrown by U.S.-backed forces after al Qaeda's September 11 attacks on the United States.

Since then, U.S. and Pakistani officials have regularly said they believe bin Laden is hiding somewhere on the rugged border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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.

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