- WASHINGTON -- Osama bin Laden, the reputed head of an Islamic militant
network Washington blames for a worldwide campaign of terrorism, may be
severely ill and close to death, senior U.S. intelligence officials told
NBC News Tuesday.
- WITHIN THE PAST WEEK, U.S. officials
in the White House, CIA and State Department have been told by a 'friendly
foreign intelligence service' that Bin Laden has only months to live. U.S.
officials would not identify the intelligence service.
- Bin Laden is said to be suffering from
heart problems and possibly cancer.
- Bin Laden has been blamed by U.S. officials
for financing and organizing the Aug. 7 embassy bombings in East Africa,
the bombings of U.S. military facilities in Saudi Arabia, the World Trade
Center bombing and plots to assassinate U.S. officials, including President
Bill Clinton. Several of his alleged operatives have been arrested and
extradited to the United States, where some of them have agreed to testify
on behalf of prosecutors.
- Osama bin Laden's network
- American intelligence officials seeking
to confirm the alleged illness are studying the most recent television
interviews with the Saudi exile and say there are visual signs of deterioration.
The United States has been unable to corroborate the foreign allegation
independently. But the senior U.S. officials said the source of the information
'is in a prime position to have first hand knowledge' of bin Laden, who
is believed to be living in a fortress-like compound in Khandahar, Afghanistan.
- LONG-TERM SUSPICIONS
- Bin Laden's health has long been the
subject of U.S. intelligence. He is believed to have an enlarged heart,
U.S. officials have said. In addition, an Egyptian who fought alongside
bin Laden in Afghanistan during the 1980s war against the Soviet occupation
said that during his final years there, the rich Saudi exile was often
accompanied by a physician who treated him for chronically low blood pressure.
- Bin Laden's current medical problem,
said one U.S. official, may be more serious. The officials said some believe
bin Laden is also suffering from cancer.
- SHORT TERM CONCERNS
- In the minds of many terrorism experts,
impending death could add to U.S. concerns about President Clinton's weekend
visit to Gaza and Jerusalem.
- Target: America
- "If he thinks he is dying, then
he may be willing to take risks to ensure his status as a martyr,"
said Brendan 'Pat' O'Hanlon, who until last year was the deputy director
for protection at the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service.
- Whether in good health or dying, Bin
Laden is a considerable concern on this trip. His network is diffuse, well-organized,
well-financed. U.S. officials from three federal agencies involved in security
also said that bin Laden has had his agents staking out Clinton since at