Terrorism expert says Osama Bin Laden could be dead

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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

An Australian terrorism expert says he has evidence, which could show Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is either seriously ill or dead.

Image of Osama bin Laden, from the FBI's Most Wanted List

Professor Clive Williams, director of terrorism studies at the Australian National University, says he has been provided with evidence, by an Indian colleague, to support the theory that bin Laden died of massive organ failure in April last year.

Professor Williams says Ayman al Zawahiri, bin Laden's deputy, has been making all statements on behalf of Al Qaeda for around a year.

Al Zawahiri is believed to have been the target of a strike in Pakistan last week which killed at least 18 people in a remote Pakistani tribal village, the second such unexplained attack near the volatile Afghan border within a week.

However, Professor Williams says it may be impossible to ever prove if Osama bin Laden, accused of plotting the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon building in the U.S., is alive or dead.

"It's hard to prove or disprove these things because there hasn't really been anything that allows you to make a judgement one way or the other," he said. "But it does seem strange that Dr Zawahiri has been making all of the statements since then, and nothing's been heard from Bin Laden since I think the December of the year before."

He says even if bin Laden was dead, it would not make much difference - as people would continue to fight for the things they believe he stood for. He has also recommended against confirming his death or otherwise.

Professor Williams, the Visiting Fellow at the Australian National University's Strategic and Defence Studies Centre said the information, which came from a former Indian intelligence officer whom he would not identify, was credible but impossible to confirm.

"It does seem reasonably convincing based on the evidence that I've been provided with that he's certainly either severely incapacitated or dead at this stage," Dr Williams said.

But he said, "Even if he's dead, it will be almost impossible for Western authorities to prove it. It may simply be that we don't hear much about Bin Laden again ... [or] he may pop up again in six months' time and make a new statement, at which case, of course, we will go back to Square1."

Al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's actions in targeting Shi'ites in Iraq were another factor raising doubt that bin Laden was still leading al-Qaeda. Bin Laden had promoted a pan-Islamic vision and had tried, unsuccessfully, to attract Shi'a Muslims to al-Qaeda.

"From what I have read, Zarqawi had a great deal of respect for bin Laden, so it would seem unlikely that he would be doing that if bin Laden was still around," said Williams. There was also the question of how long an ill man like bin Laden, who walked with a cane and suffered from a kidney disease, would survive in the tribal areas of Pakistan, where he was thought to be hiding.

However, the United States believes Bin Laden still alive. Osama Bin Laden and his deputy are thought to be living in the area of a missile strike apparently aimed at Ayman al-Zawahiri, said US counter-terrorism ambassador Henry Crumpton. He said the al-Qaeda leader and his number two were believed to be in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region.

The US has not commented on the attack on a Pakistan village on Friday that killed 18 civilians. US media said the attack was carried out by the CIA. Thousands of Pakistanis later staged anti-American demonstrations.