bin laden 298.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
French President Jacques Chirac 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 investigate 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 a "usually reliable source" saying that Saudi secret services are convinced the leader of the al-Qaida terror network had died.
The DGSE sent the document, dated September 21, 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."
Officials from Afghanistan to Washington expressed doubts about the report and a Saudi Interior Ministry official refused comment.
"We have no response to the question of whether bin Laden is dead or alive," the Interior Ministry official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
A senior official in Afghanistan's Foreign Ministry said he is "very skeptical of the truthfulness" of the document, noting past false reports of the death of bin Laden. He was not authorized to address the issue and asked that his name not be used.
Pakistan's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Tasnim Aslam, called the information "speculative," saying that Pakistan like other countries was "clueless about him."
In Washington, Blair Jones, a presidential spokesman, said Saturday that the White House could not confirm the accuracy of the report that bin Laden may have died.
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.
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 al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed in a US 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 manipulated. "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 published this morning by the l'Est Republicain newspaper concerning the possible death of Osama bin Laden cannot be confirmed," a Defense Ministry statement said.
The DGSE spy agency, or Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure, indicated that its information came from a single source.
"According to a usually reliable source, Saudi security services are now convinced that Osama bin Laden is dead," the intelligence report said.
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 September 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.
US 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."