PARIS — President Jacques Chirac and Saudi officials said Saturday that information contained in a leaked intelligence document raising the possibility that Osama bin Laden may have died of typhoid in Pakistan last month is “in no way whatsoever confirmed.”
Chirac said he was “a bit surprised” at the leak and has asked Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie to probe how a document from a French foreign intelligence service was published in the French press.
The regional newspaper l’Est Republicain on Saturday printed what it described as a copy of a confidential document from the DGSE intelligence service citing an uncorroborated report from Saudi secret services that the leader of the al-Qaida terror network had died.
The DGSE transmitted the document, dated Sept. 21 or Thursday, to Chirac and other top French officials, the newspaper said.
“This information is in no way whatsoever confirmed,” Chirac said Saturday when asked about the document. “I have no comment.”
The Saudi Embassy in Washington issued a statement saying: “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has no evidence to support recent media reports that Osama bin Laden is dead. Information that has been reported otherwise is purely speculative and cannot be independently verified.”
In Washington, CIA duty officer Paul Gimigliano said he could not confirm the DGSE report.
The Washington-based IntelCenter, which monitors terrorism communications, said it was not aware of any similar reports on the Internet.
“We’ve seen nothing from any al-Qaida messaging or other indicators that would point to the death of Osama bin Laden,” IntelCenter director Ben N. Venzke told The Associated Press.
Last date known is June 29
Al-Qaida would likely release information of his death fairly quickly if it were true, said Venzke, whose organization also provides counterterrorism intelligence services for the American government.
“They would want to release that to sort of control the way that it unfolds. If they wait too long, they could lose the initiative on it,” he said.
The last time the IntelCenter says it could be sure bin Laden was alive was June 29, when al-Qaida released an audiotape in which the terror leader eulogized the death of al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Iraq earlier that month.
Chirac spoke at a news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Compiegne, France, where the leaders were holding a summit.
Putin suggested that leaks can be ways to manipulate. “When there are leaks ... one can say that (they) were done especially.”
Earlier the French defense ministry said it was opening an investigation into the leak.
“The information diffused this morning by the l’Est Republicain newspaper concerning the possible death of Osama bin Laden cannot be confirmed,” a Defense Ministry statement said.
How ‘reliable’ a source?
The DGSE, or Direction Generale des Services Exterieurs, indicated that its information came from a single source.
“According to a reliable source, Saudi security services are now convinced that Osama bin Laden is dead,” said the intelligence report. Video: Report claims bin Laden is dead
There have been periodic reports of bin Laden’s illness or death in recent years but none has been proven accurate.
According to this report, Saudi security services were pursuing further details, notably the place of his burial.
“The chief of al-Qaida was a victim of a severe typhoid crisis while in Pakistan on August 23, 2006,” the document says. His geographic isolation meant that medical assistance was impossible, the French report said, adding that his lower limbs were allegedly paralyzed.
The report further said Saudi security services had their first information on bin Laden’s alleged death on Sept. 4.
In Pakistan, a senior official of that country’s top spy agency, the ISI or Directorate of Inter-Service Intelligence, said he had no information to confirm bin Laden’s whereabouts or that he might be dead. The official said he believed the report could be fabricated. The official was not authorized to speak publicly on the topic and spoke on condition of anonymity.
U.S. Embassy officials in Pakistan and Afghanistan also said they could not confirm the French report.
Gen. Henri Bentegeat, the French army chief of staff, said in a radio debate last Sunday that bin Laden’s fate remained a mystery.
“Today, bin Laden is certainly not in Afghanistan,” Bentegeat said. “No one is completely certain that he is even alive.”
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.