Bin Laden dead from typhoid, says rumour sweeping globe

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A claim that Osama bin Laden, the elusive al-Qa'ida leader, may have died of typhoid in Pakistan last month touched off a storm of speculation around the world yesterday, followed by a stream of denials.

President Jacques Chirac of France, where the report originated, said it was "in no way whatsoever confirmed", and officials from Washington to Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, said there was no information to back it.

The French regional newspaper l'Est Republicain yesterday printed what was later confirmed as an authentic document from France's DGSE intelligence service. This said "according to a usually reliable source, Saudi security services are now convinced that Osama bin Laden is dead".

The chief of al-Qa'ida "was a victim of a severe typhoid crisis while in Pakistan on 23 August, 2006", it added. His geographical isolation meant that medical assistance was impossible, and his lower limbs were said to have paralysed. The Saudis were said to be seeking further information, including the place of Bin Laden's burial.

Although the French authorities began a leak inquiry, the claim met widespread scepticism. One US analyst said that if the Saudis had any such information, they would have passed it to the CIA rather than French intelligence. The White House and officials in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia said there was no indication there was anything in the report.