The French newspaper L’Est Republicain has an excerpt from a DGSE (French intelligence agency) report that claims that Osama Bin Laden may have died of typhoid fever on August 23. U.S. English-language media have not reprinted the actual text of the September 21 DGSE report excerpted by L’Est Republicain. So I will do so here. For those of you who read French, here’s the actual language from the DGSE report reprinted by the paper:
Selon une source habituellement fiable, les services saoudiens auraient désormais acquis la conviction qu’Oussama Ben Laden est mort. Les éléments recueillis par les saoudiens indiquent que le chef d’Al-Qaïda aurait été victime, alors qu’il se trouvait au Pakistan le 23 août 2006, d’une très forte crise de typhoïde ayant entraîné une paralysie partielle de ses membres inférieurs. Son isolement géographique, provoqué par une fuite permanente, aurait rendu impossible toute assistance médicale. Le 4 septembre 2006, les services saoudiens de sécurité ont recueilli les premiers renseignements faisant état de son décès. Ils attendraient, d’obtenir davantage de détails, et notamment le lieu exact de son inhumation, pour annoncer officiellement la nouvelle.
Loosely translated, the DGSE is saying that, according to a “generally reliable” source, Saudi intelligence believes that Bin Laden died of typhoid fever on August 23 in Pakistan. Because of “geographic isolation” caused by efforts to evade attempts to capture him, Bin Laden could not get any medical assistance. The Saudis, according to the DGSE’s source, are waiting on further details of Bin Laden’s death, and especially “the exact location of his burial” before making an official announcement.
French and US officials are denying that Bin Laden’s death has been confirmed. However, French President Jacques Chirac implicitly confirmed L’Est Republicain’s claim that this a genuine DGSE report considered sufficiently reliable to be transmitted to the “highest levels of the French government,” including the President, the Minister of Defense, and the Minister of the Interior. According to Chirac (quoted in the CNN story linked above), “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.”
Does this mean that Bin Laden is really dead? I have no idea. Certainly, I don’t know how “reliable” the DGSE’s Saudi source really is, or how good the Saudis’ own sources on Bin Laden’s condition and whereabouts are. Moreover, premature reports of Bin Laden’s death have surfaced before, only to be discredited. However, it is still noteworthy that the DGSE seems to believe there is a good chance that Bin Laden really has gone on to his rendez-vous with the 72 virgins in the sky.
UPDATE: This AP report noted by a commenter contains various quotes by US, French, and Pakistani officials claiming that the DGSE report remains unconfirmed. However, they also implicitly reaffirm that the report itself is genuine and don’t claim that it is actually false. What to make of this? Given the history of false claims of OBL’s death, it is more likely than not that he is still alive. But we won’t know for sure until either 1) we discover the corpse or 2) Bin Laden makes another video. Stay tuned!