- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 24, 2006

PARIS — A leaked French intelligence document raises the possibility Osama bin Laden died of typhoid, but President Jacques Chirac said yesterday 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 Qaeda 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 Mr. Chirac and other top French officials, the newspaper said.

“This information is in no way whatsoever confirmed,” Mr. Chirac said when asked about the document. “I have no comment.”

Last night, the Saudi Embassy in Washington issued a statement saying, “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has no evidence to support recent media reports that Osama bin Laden is dead,” according to Agence France-Presse. “Information that has been reported otherwise is purely speculative and cannot be independently verified.”

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 the condition of anonymity, 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 spokeswoman, Tasnim Aslam, called the information “speculative,” saying her government had no information on bin Laden.

Many people suspect bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders are hiding in the mountains in Pakistan 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.

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 Qaeda messaging or other indicators that would point to the death of Osama bin Laden,” IntelCenter director Ben N. Venzke told AP.

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