Rumors Swirl About Bin Laden's Health

carousel, Serena Williams, of the United States, reacts after losing a point to Kim Clijsters, of Belgium, during their match at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2009. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings) AP Photo/Darron Cummings

Osama bin Laden's health has deteriorated in the past year, forcing him to curtail his movements, according to Arab diplomats in Pakistan who routinely track reports of his movements.

A senior source with an intelligence service friendly to the United States told CBS News that Saudi Intelligence has collected what it considers to be "very credible information" that bin Laden has been very seriously ill, and that the Saudi services are now suggesting, though not confirming, that they "have a pretty high certainty" that he is dead.

The source added that if he has died as a result of typhoid fever, which comes from exposure to contaminated water and food, it would confirm reports that he has been hiding in a remote area, under very harsh conditions with limited access to medical care.

While Pakistani officials and diplomats stationed in the country on Saturday did not confirm a report in a French regional newspaper that claimed the world's most wanted terrorist had died of typhoid earlier this month, some spoke of reports in the past year suggesting that bin Laden's health had rapidly deteriorated, prompting speculation over his remaining life expectancy.

Time Magazine also reported that bin Laden "has become seriously ill and may have already died" from a "water-borne illness."

But U.S. sources are skeptical of the reports. A senior White house official tells CBS News White House correspondent Jim Axelrod, "I wouldn't hold your breath."

When asked at the Saudi Day reception in Washington about reports that Bin Laden had died, the Saudi ambassador to the United States Prince Turki al-Faisal said, "Don't believe everything you hear on the news ... Osama Bin Laden is alive and well."

French President Jacques Chirac said, "The information is in no way whatsoever confirmed and therefore I have no comment on it."

"You should never say 'never,' but the source of the intelligence is not a very good one – Saudi intelligence can sometimes be an oxymoron," Michael Scheuer, who ran the CIA's bin Laden unit, said on the Saturday Early Show. "It almost sounds like between the French and the Saudis are trying to goad bin Laden into saying something to prove he is still alive."

Sources in the region near the Afghan-Pakistan border tell CBS News analyst Jere Van Dyk that if bin Laden were dead the West would never know it. They want to preserve the idea that Osama is alive because he is a mythical figure, as much as anything else.

One Arab diplomat who spoke to CBS News on the condition that his identity would not be revealed said there were fewer reports in 2006 of bin Laden's possible sightings around the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"In the past, sometimes with a delay of two to three days, you would
see reports which suggested he may be on the move somewhere, there have been fewer such reports this year," he said. "Does this mean, he is acutely ill, dying or has in fact died? There is no credible answer to that question. Unless there is a body, how can anyone say for sure that bin Laden is dead?"

The same diplomat said, bin Laden has had a history of illnesses that were first reported while the Taliban regime still ruled Afghanistan in 2000. One such report seen by the diplomat a year before the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, reported that bin Laden had to be hospitalized briefly in Kabul before he was brought to Pakistan for medical treatment, then believed to be a kidney-related ailment.

"If it is true that bin Laden had to have dialysis for his kidneys then — which is six years ago — his health must be far worse now. Especially the conditions that he lived in, being on the run from U.S. forces must also take its toll on him. I wouldn't be surprised if he is dead. Nobody is immortal," concluded the diplomat.

  • Sean Alfano

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