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RESPONSE TO TERROR

Musharraf Says He Suspects Bin Laden Is Dead

January 19, 2002|From Associated Press

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan's president said in an interview broadcast Friday that he believes Osama bin Laden is dead, the victim of kidney failure during the U.S. bombing campaign against Afghanistan.

"I think now, frankly, he is dead for the reason that he is a patient, a kidney patient," President Pervez Musharraf said in a CNN broadcast.

Two dialysis machines were donated to Afghanistan, one of which was "specifically for [Bin Laden's] personal use," Musharraf said.

However, U.S. officials have no evidence that Bin Laden has had severe kidney problems, much less died of them, one official said, speaking in Washington on condition of anonymity.

Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said he was aware of the Musharraf statement, adding, "I haven't seen anything in intelligence that would confirm or deny that.

"We really don't know where he is, whether he's in Afghanistan or whether he may have left. But we know this: The world is not a large enough place for him to hide. He might today, he might hide tomorrow, but it's not large enough for him to hide in," Franks said.

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said Friday that U.S. officials do not know whether Bin Laden has died, but added, "I don't think the president would view that as an unwelcome event."

However, U.S. intelligence has some evidence that Bin Laden survived the destruction of many of Al Qaeda's camps and caves, American officials said. The United States hopes that prisoner interrogations and other intelligence sources will warm up the trail to Bin Laden.

Bin Laden has long been rumored to be suffering from several illnesses, including kidney and heart trouble. None of the ailments has been confirmed.

Bin Laden, reportedly about 44 years old, last appeared in a videotape broadcast Dec. 26, during which he praised the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States. Bin Laden looked pale and gaunt on the tape.

"I don't know if he has been getting all that treatment in Afghanistan now," Musharraf said of Bin Laden. "And the photographs that have been shown of him on television show him extremely weak."

Musharraf did not indicate whether he had intelligence reports to back up his suspicions. Musharraf said he believes Bin Laden is in Afghanistan if he is alive.

Last month, Musharraf told Chinese television there was a "great possibility" that Bin Laden had been killed by U.S. bombing.

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