Osama Bin Laden, the exiled Saudi dissident and America's most wanted man is, a leading news magazine claims, "dying of kidney failure".
Quoting "a Western intelligence source who has been tracking him", Asiaweek says in its latest edition that Mr Bin Laden's associates have been trying to obtain a kidney dialysis machine to alleviate his worsening condition. Asiaweek's unnamed source is quoted as saying "the man is dying" although he is still able to talk and hold meetings.
The millionaire businessman, believed to be in hiding in Afghanistan, is wanted by the United States for the bombings of its embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998. He and 16 others are named as defendants in an indictment accusing them of masterminding a terrorist network which has killed more than 200 people.
News of Mr Bin Laden's ailing condition was greeted with scepticism by analysts of the region. It comes as President Bill Clinton prepares for a visit to Pakistan during which he is expected to put pressure on the military regime there to disarm the fundamentalist Islamic parties known to be supporting Mr Bin Laden.
General Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in a military coup last year, is due to travel to Afghanistan soon and his influence over the Taliban in securing Mr Bin Laden's handover could be crucial. Washington has been pursuing a "get Bin Laden" agenda over the past two years and this in turn has fuelled an American reversal of policy on Afghanistan's ruling Taliban, which it once supported.
The Taliban, insisting that any trial should be presided over by judges from three Islamic countries are refusing to hand the Saudi fugitive over to the US for trial. But Washington's belief that the new government in Islamabad may help to secure his arrest influenced the State Department to persuade President Clinton to add Pakistan to his itinerary.
Mr Bin Laden and his followers have close links with Pakistan and its Inter Services Intelligence Agency which is, in turn, suspected of working with anti-American groups including the Harakat ul-Mujahideen.
Mr Clinton's visit to Pakistan is aimed at persuading the military regime to assist the CIA in tracking down Mr Bin Laden. In an attempt to recruit local help in tracking down Mr Bin Laden, the US consulate in Peshawar, the capital of Pakistan's North West Frontier province last month distributed hundreds of matchboxes carrying pictures of Mr Bin Laden and offering a $5m reward for his capture.
The matchbox messages promised informants confidentiality and a guarantee of asylum in the US. The American move enraged many local people in an area where mothers name their babies Osama and where posters of the bearded dissident in a white turban are given pride of place in many homes.Reuse content