- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 18, 2001

Where's Osama bin Laden? The global press is rife with plausible speculation, endless rehash and a few unusual theories.
One new account puts the terrorist in Europe using a false German or French passport.
So says Washington-based journalist Atef Gawad, a correspondent for Saudi Arabia's Al-Watan newspaper and other news organizations, who is currently putting the finishing touches on the story.
"That is what my sources say," Mr. Gawad said yesterday.
"But I also reported almost two weeks ago that bin Laden has had sophisticated cosmetic surgery from a British-trained Pakistani physician, and is now in Pakistan," Mr. Gawad continued. "He is comfortably settled there with a new appearance, and Pakistani intelligence is turning a blind eye to it."
Mr. Gawad is philosophical about the differences in the two accounts, and said he is simply following the story like everyone else. Bin Laden's surgery, he added, is "the kind Michael Jackson had. Very complete."
The Fox News Channel also reported that bin Laden had changed his appearance and was living incognito in Pakistan but without the surgery. Fox said he had shaved his beard, put on a Western suit and scuttled his old combat fatigues.
"The pressure for bin Laden stories spawned some striking journalism, with reports in U.S. and British newspapers of sightings," noted Britain's Independent yesterday. "But no journalist found a firsthand witness who had seen Mr. bin Laden with his own eyes."
Consequently, no news became news in the great press search for conclusions.
Amid dramatic accounts of "Tora Bora hysteria," the Independent continued, "the accumulation of rumors, second- and thirdhand sightings, media reports and the absence of any firm denial gave the story a life of its own: It came to seem probable, not for any good reason, but because everyone else believed it to be true."
And what does the Asian press say?
Al-Akhbar, a Pakistani newspaper, reported that bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar had been shot "by their own consent" in Kandahar the day the city fell to American troops and Afghan freedom fighters.
The Afghan Islamic Press hinted that the whereabouts of "Omar were secret," and that bin Laden's was just plain "unknown."
The Agence France-Presse news service, meanwhile, speculated that bin Laden has gone to the border mountains of Uzbekistan to the northwest, where he is being sheltered by Islamic militants sympathetic to his cause.
The BBC has pronounced that bin Laden's "trail has gone cold," though a BBC analyst has suggested Iraq, Sudan, Somalia and Chechnya as possible bin Laden hide-outs. The BBC also offers visitors an interactive "Trapping bin Laden" map at its Web site (https://news.bbc.co.uk).
Like their American counterparts, Afghan spokesmen have been frustrated by constant media demands for answers.
Fresh from a descent out of the mountains, Mohammed Zaman, the eastern alliance's defense chief, finally shouted to persistent reporters that he did not know where bin Laden was in English, then in French for emphasis.
"Allah knows where Bin Laden is," Mr. Zaman said. "I don't know. We will see tomorrow because we will search all of the dead."

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