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Sources: No bodyguards, no bin Laden

Osama bin Laden
Osama bin Laden  

From Kelli Arena and Barbara Starr
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Some members of Osama bin Laden's security detail have been captured and are among the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, U.S. officials told CNN Tuesday.

Sources believe that if the bodyguards were captured away from bin Laden, it is likely the most-wanted man in the world is dead. The sources said the guards have been in custody since February.

The revelation is the latest circumstantial and anecdotal evidence suggesting the al Qaeda leader might have been killed in the U.S.-led military action to purge the Taliban from power in Afghanistan.

Some high-level U.S. officials are already convinced by such evidence that bin Laden, who has not been seen or heard from in months, is dead.

Earlier this month, Dale Watson, assistant director of the FBI's Counterterrorism Division, said he was not sure whether bin Laden is alive or dead. "I personally think he's probably not with us anymore," he said.

But sources and officials Tuesday underscored there is not enough evidence to draw a firm conclusion about bin Laden's fate, including anything to suggest he remains alive.

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"I don't think you could read anything in it conclusively," said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

"The fact you might capture part of the king's bodyguard doesn't mean you've got the king."

U.S. intelligence officials also are speculating about the status of bin Laden's 21-year-old son, saying Tuesday that while they believe he is active in al Qaeda, they see nothing to suggest directly that he has taken on a more senior role.

They described Saad bin Laden, the al Qaeda leader's third eldest son, as a facilitator "making arrangements and introductions." One intelligence official said, "He causes money to move around."

Officials underscore that they do not believe he has been designated the heir apparent or has taken control of al Qaeda, as some British-based Arab newspapers, including Asharq Al-Awsat, have suggested.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said that six to eight senior al Qaeda officials could still run the organization even if bin Laden were dead.

Nevertheless, the United States has high interest in capturing Saad bin Laden, in part because it is believed he would know whether his father is dead.

Officials tracking communications that could be linked to the group said Tuesday that they have picked up a fair amount of "chatter" in recent weeks, including intercepts of phone calls and e-mails between al Qaeda members.

Some of the intercepts contain messages regarding the movement of money and planning of future attacks.

U.S. intelligence sources said they believe that some messages may be bogus, part of an al Qaeda effort to deceive the United States.

Despite that possibility, sources maintain that some level of threat remains.




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