A Letter from Osama Bin Laden

  • Share
  • Read Later
While intelligence officials are not certain whether Osama bin Laden is alive or dead, they have found a tantalizing document that suggests he was living at least as recently as the last days of December. That would mean bin Laden survived last year's American bombardment of Afghanistan, including the assault on Tora Bora. The evidence, according to a source who has seen a French intelligence analysis of it, is a short handwritten letter, bearing bin Laden's signature, to al-Qaeda operations chief Abu Zubaydah. The note, which was among the documents found on Abu Zubaydah when he was seized in a March police raid in Pakistan, exhorts Abu Zubaydah to continue the jihad against the U.S. even if something happens to bin Laden or to his deputy, Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri, a reference that suggests al-Zawahiri too was alive at the time.

Other material found in the Faisalabad hideaway of Abu Zubaydah, whom U.S. officials are interrogating at an undisclosed location, is also proving rich. "Abu Zubaydah's papers are saying more than he is," says Roland Jacquard, a terrorism expert close to the office of the French President. Among the documents are plans for attacks on tankers and cruise ships, says Jacquard, as well as evidence that bin Laden's son Saad was also in Faisalabad, though he evaded capture. As for the elder bin Laden, even if he is still alive, evidence of his failing health is mounting. Intelligence experts have long believed that bin Laden suffers from kidney trouble—perhaps brought on by diabetes—that requires him to undergo regular dialysis. Now, according to a source with access to intelligence on the al-Qaeda leader's health, a group of physicians has hypothesized, after analyzing bin Laden's appearance in photographs over time, that he also suffers from the related problem of secondary osteoporosis. This condition can produce crippling back pain, and it makes for brittle bones that can easily snap with ordinary slips or falls, not to mention the hard knocks that can come from scampering in and out of hideaways while on the run.