By John Ward Anderson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, September 24, 2006
PARIS, Sept. 23 -- French and U.S. officials discounted a report Saturday in a French newspaper indicating that Osama bin Laden had died of typhoid last month in a remote area of Pakistan.
The newspaper, L'Est Republicain, quoted a confidential document from the French secret service as saying that "according to a reliable source, Saudi security services are now convinced that Osama bin Laden is dead."
The newspaper reported that intelligence officials had given the document, dated Sept. 21, to President Jacques Chirac, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin and the interior and defense ministers.
A senior French official acknowledged the existence of the document, but Chirac said at a news conference Saturday that there was no confirmation that the leader of the al-Qaeda terror network had died.
"This information is in no way whatsoever confirmed," Chirac told reporters, declining to comment further.
U.S. intelligence sources also cast serious doubt on the report, saying there was no information to support its claims.
Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry offered no details. "I've heard the reports, but I have no information at all. I have no idea," a spokesman, Lt. Gen. Mansour al-Turki, told the Associated Press.
[Early Sunday, the Saudi Embassy in Washington said that the kingdom had no evidence that Osama bin Laden had died, the Reuters news agency reported.]
Senior government officials in Pakistan and U.S. diplomats there and in Afghanistan said they were not aware of any Saudi intelligence reports indicating that bin Laden may have died, news services reported.
The French defense minister, Michele Alliot-Marie, has ordered an investigation into the leak of the document.
"The report cited this morning by the newspaper L'Est Republicain related to the supposed death of Osama bin Laden cannot be confirmed," the Defense Ministry said in a statement. "The minister of defense has ordered an investigation to determine the origin of this leak, which is likely to constitute an offense subject to penal sanctions."
According to L'Est Republicain, the French intelligence report said: "Information gathered by the Saudis indicates that the head of al-Qaeda was a victim while he was in Pakistan on Aug. 23, 2006, of a very serious case of typhoid, which led to a partial paralysis of his internal organs."
Typhoid is a bacterial disease that can be spread in food or drink handled by a carrier or through contaminated sewage.
The newspaper said that, according to the document, the remoteness of the area where the alleged illness occurred would have made any medical treatment impossible. The report said Saudi officials were awaiting confirmation, particularly the place of bin Laden's burial, before announcing his death.
Bin Laden, born in Saudi Arabia, is believed to be hiding in the remote areas along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, where he has used the rugged terrain and sympathetic locals to evade capture.
U.S. and Pakistani officials have said recently that they had not received a credible lead on his whereabouts in more than two years.
Correspondent Molly Moore in Paris and staff writer Dafna Linzer in Washington contributed to this report.