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Officials, friends can't confirm Bin Laden death report

Story Highlights

• France's Chirac, U.S. intelligence downplay report that bin Laden is dead
• Report's source is leaked French defense ministry documents
• Saudi source tells CNN bin Laden is ill with a water-borne disease
• Bin Laden's brother-in-law says he has heard no report of al Qaeda leader's death
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PARIS, France (CNN) -- A report that Osama bin Laden is dead has set off a flurry of denials from U.S., French and Pakistani officials, who say the newspaper report citing French intelligence cannot be independently confirmed.

A Saudi intelligence official, however, told CNN on Saturday that the al Qaeda leader is suffering from a waterborne illness. There have been credible reports that the most wanted man in the world is ill, but there is no intelligence indicating he is dead, the source said.

L'Est Republicain, citing a September 21 French foreign intelligence document, reported that Saudi officials had received confirmation that bin Laden died August 23 of typhoid fever in Pakistan. (Watch what intelligence information reveals about bin Laden's condition -- 1:59)

"We believe this reporting to be unsubstantiated," a U.S. intelligence official said.

Other U.S. intelligence officials concurred, and White House spokesman Blair Jones said, "We have no confirmation of that report." (Watch a former CIA director explain how this report could be confirmed --3:34)

A senior White House official with access to intelligence reports added that he has made several calls to senior government officials and could not verify the report.

Across the Atlantic, French President Jacques Chirac said the report was "in no way confirmed" and that he was initiating an investigation into who leaked the confidential document to L'Est Republicain. (Watch French reporter sticking to his story -- 1:51)

"I was rather surprised to see that a confidential note from the [General Directorate for External Security] was published, and I have asked the minister of defense to start an investigation immediately and to reach whatever conclusions are necessary," Chirac said after trade talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Compiegne, France.

Friend, family weigh in

Bin Laden's brother-in-law, Jamal Khalifa, who was the al Qaeda leader's best friend when they were university students in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, told CNN that he has heard no report of bin Laden's death. The Saudi-based businessman has been married to bin Laden's sister, Shaikha, since 1986.

Khaled Batarfi, a managing editor at the Saudi newspaper Al Madina and who was close friends with bin Laden when they were teenagers, said he remains in touch with bin Laden's immediate family in Jeddah. Family members said Saturday they had heard nothing to confirm the report, Batarfi told CNN.

Despite the fervent denials, journalist Laid Sammari, who wrote the article, said in a telephone interview that he was confident the classified document was authentic. His article states that Saudi secret service agents on September 4 received reports of bin Laden's death.

Saudi officials plan to make an official announcement after they confirm the burial site for the al Qaeda leader, Sammari said.

In Pakistan, officials said Saturday that they had no confirmation of bin Laden's death. On Friday, President Gen. Pervez Musharraf confirmed President Bush's earlier statement that the hunt for bin Laden is still on.

Al Qaeda was behind the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States that killed almost 3,000 people in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington. The U.S. State Department is offering a $25 million reward for information leading directly to bin Laden's arrest or conviction, according to the FBI.

The Airline Pilots Association and the Air Transport Association are offering an additional $2 million reward.

Bin Laden's most recent public message came June 30, when an audio recording was posted on an Islamic Web site. He stated that Abu Hamza al-Muhajer had replaced Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as leader of al Qaeda in Iraq. Al-Zarqawi was killed in a U.S. airstrike earlier in June.

The CIA confirmed the voice on the tape was bin Laden's.

The al Qaeda leader's most recent videotaped statement was aired October 29, 2004, on Al-Jazeera.

CNN's Katie Turner, Pam Benson, Peter Bergen, Elise Labott and Nic Robertson contributed to this report.

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The most recent message from Bin Laden was an audiotaped posted on an Islamic Web site on June 30.


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