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Saudis Say No Evidence Bin Laden Died

Bin Laden in a 2004 video message September 24, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Saudi Arabia said today it had no evidence that Osama bin Laden died, shedding further doubt on a news report that said Saudi secret services believed the Al-Qaeda leader died last month.

A statement issued by the Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C., says recent media reports that bin Laden is dead are "purely speculative and cannot be independently verified."

The comments came one day after the French newspaper "L'Est Republicain" published an excerpt from a French foreign intelligence service (DGSE) document saying Saudi Arabia's intelligence service had information bin Laden died of typhoid last month in Pakistan.

Newspaper Says Report 'Authentic'

"I think we can't contest that this DGSE document, which is classified 'defense confidential' is authentic," said Laid Sammari, who wrote the article. "It's dated from September 21 and it's so authentic that the French president announced [on September 23] that he has ordered an investigation into the origin of the leakage."

Sammari said his newspaper took the document "very seriously."

"Even though there have been reports about the death of bin Laden in several occasions, the DGSE has never drew up any document on this issue before," he said. "It's the first time it made a document that is so precise and in which a source is cited."

'Water-Borne Disease'

The report says the Al-Qaeda leader was struck down by a serious case of typhoid, "which led to a partial paralysis of his internal organs," resulting in his death sometime between August 23 and September 4.

Typhoid is an infectious disease spread through contaminated food or water.

"Time" magazine separately posted an article on its website citing an unidentified Saudi source, who claimed Saudi officials had received reports in recent weeks that bin Laden had been struck by a water-borne illness.

Official Denials

French President Jacques Chirac sought to distance himself from the "L'Est Republicain" account, telling reporters that bin Laden's death was "in no way confirmed, and I thus have no comment on this matter."

Bin Laden (left) and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahri are believed to be in Pakistan (epa, 2001)

Chirac also said he had ordered the Defense Ministry to investigate how the intelligence document was leaked.

In New York, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters that she had "no knowledge" of bin Laden's demise. Washington has made capturing the mastermind of the September 11, 2001, attacks a priority in its war on terrorism.

Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao said the country's security services could not confirm the report.

Speaking to Radio Canada television in Montreal, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the report would be welcome if it turns out to be true. "But it's just speculation."

Often rumored to be dead, bin Laden is believed to be hiding in the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Several audiotapes and Internet messages attributed to him were released this year but his last videotape was delivered in late 2004.

Born in Saudi Arabia to a wealthy family, bin Laden was indicted in the United States in 1998 on charges of murder of U.S. nationals outside the United States.

He has been successfully avoiding capture since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, which toppled the Taliban regime that had provided him refuge.

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