Bin Laden Said Mortally
Ill - To Die Within 4 months
By Andrea Mitchell and Robert Windrem
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.
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.
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 least 1994.