Is Osama Dead?

I’d heard the rumour floating around, but I didn’t believe it—this Reuters article (archived link), France to probe bin Laden death report leak, makes me wonder.

From the article:

France’s Defence Ministry said on Saturday a secret service report saying al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had died could not be confirmed but said it would launch an inquiry into the leak of secret documents.

The Defence Ministry issued the statement after a French regional newspaper, L’Est Republicain, published a report quoting a French secret service report as saying Saudi Arabia is convinced al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden died of typhoid in Pakistan last month.

And this:

U.S. cannot confirm bin Laden death report

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. government is unable to confirm a French newspaper report that al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is believed to have died last month in Pakistan, the U.S. State Department said on Saturday.

“We don’t have any confirmation of those reports,” said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

“We have no confirmation of that report,” echoed White House spokesman Blair Jones.

A U.S. intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, came closer to an outright denial, saying Washington had no evidence to suggest the French report was true.

“We don’t have anything to support it,” the official said.

“We’ve heard these things before and have no reason to think this is any different. There’s just nothing we can point to, to say this report has any more credence than other reports we’ve seen in the past.”

The French regional daily L’Est Republicain reported that, according to a French secret service report, Saudi Arabia is convinced bin Laden died of typhoid in Pakistan in late August. The French government has said it could not confirm the report and would investigate the intelligence leak.

Media reports suggesting bin Laden was dead, seriously wounded or in ill health have surfaced periodically over the years, especially during lengthy periods of time without taped messages from the al Qaeda leader.

U.S. officials have suggested that his death would be accompanied by a surge of e-mail and telephone chatter among bereaved al Qaeda members, if not an actual announcement from the militant network.

But officials said they were not aware of any such chatter in recent weeks.

Still, a U.S. counterterrorism official, who spoke off the record, declined to completely rule out bin Laden’s death.

“It’s quite possible (that) there was some talk of this, but in terms of being able to confirm this, that I can’t do,” said the official, who declined to be identified.

A factor fuelling persistent speculation about bin Laden’s health is that he has not been seen on a new videotape since late 2004, while his second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahri, has made a number of videotaped appearances.

But bin Laden, 49, a Saudi-born fugitive with a $25 million (13.2 million pound) price on his head, has released several audiotapes this year, which U.S. intelligence has authenticated.

His latest audiotape surfaced in July. In it, he warned Iraq’s Shi’ite majority of retaliation for attacks on Sunni Arabs and said al Qaeda would fight the United States anywhere in the world.

(Additional reporting by Sue Pleming in New York and Caren Bohan in Washington)