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Doctor Says Bin Laden Was Healthy

November 28, 2002|From Associated Press

LAHORE, Pakistan — A prominent Pakistani doctor who admitted treating Osama bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders before and after the Sept. 11 attacks said Wednesday that the terrorist mastermind was in excellent health and showed no signs of kidney failure.

Dr. Amer Aziz, recently released after being held incommunicado and interrogated for a month by FBI and CIA agents, said he knew nothing of Al Qaeda's plans and rejected allegations that he helped the organization in its efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction.

Speaking at his clinic in Lahore, Aziz said he met Bin Laden twice -- in 1999 after Bin Laden hurt his back falling off a horse in southern Afghanistan and in November 2001, two months after the attacks on New York and Washington, when Aziz was summoned to treat another senior Al Qaeda leader, Mohammed Atef, in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Bin Laden was in strong health on both occasions, said Aziz, a British-educated orthopedic surgeon. He said he saw no evidence that Bin Laden had kidney disease, as has been widely reported, or that he was on dialysis.

"He was walking. He was healthy. He just told me to give good treatment to his man, that he was a very important man," Aziz said of the November meeting, at which No. 2 Al Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri was also present.

"If you are on dialysis, you have a special look. I didn't see any of that," Aziz said, adding that he gave Bin Laden a complete physical in 1999 and found no signs of kidney problems.

Reports of Bin Laden's poor health -- and his deteriorating appearance in videotapes released shortly after U.S. bombing began in Afghanistan in October 2001 -- fueled speculation that he might have died. Intelligence officials now say an audiotape released last month was recorded recently and contained Bin Laden's voice.

Aziz said that when he went to Afghanistan last November to set up a surgical unit at the University of Jalalabad, near the border with Pakistan, he had no idea that he was going to meet Bin Laden.

A day after he treated Atef for a slipped disk, the Al Qaeda military chief was killed by U.S. bombing, Aziz said, adding that he attended Atef's funeral.

Aziz, who speaks fluent English, said it never occurred to him to turn in Bin Laden. He said he had been traveling to Afghanistan since 1989 to give medical support to Islamic fighters, a time when it was "kosher for everyone to support the moujahedeen," or holy warriors. In those days, anti-Soviet fighters in Afghanistan were supported by the United States.

"Different countries have since made a somersault, but I had no plans to do so myself," he said. "Anyone who is fighting for what is right, it is my duty to treat them."

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