Bin Laden Reportedly Ailing

by Kathy Gannon
The Associated Press
March 25, 2000


Osama bin Laden seemed weak and gaunt at a meeting about President Clinton's visit to Pakistan, a witness said, and a Western intelligence official said the alleged terrorist leader is suffering from kidney and liver disease.

Bin Laden has kidney failure and ''his liver is going,'' the official said, speaking on condition that neither he nor his nation be identified. He said bin Laden's followers were trying to find a kidney dialysis machine for their ailing leader. Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia, however, insist bin Laden is fine.

''His health is good. There is no problem with his kidney or liver,'' said Ahmad Ulla h, a Taliban spokesman in southern Kandahar, the headquarters of the religious militia.

Despite his illness, it has been business as usual for bin Laden, the Western intelligence official said Thursday. ''He is still operating an enormous terrorist network around the world,'' he said.

Bin Laden, a Saudi exile accused by the United States of organizing the deadly 1998 attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, was seen March 17 with 100 followers in a remote mountain valley in Afghanistan's eastern Laghman province, said an Afghan who attended the meeting.

''He is very much weak. His face is very thin,'' said the man, who has close contacts with Afghanistan's ruling militia and accompanied a Taliban security officer to the meeting.

Clinton's visit to Pakistan today was the focus of the remote mountain meeting, the Afghan said. Bin Laden and his followers, mostly Arab nationals, discussed the likelihood that Clinton would press Pakistan's military leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf to persuade the Taliban to surrender bin Laden.

Bin Laden, believed to be in his late 30s, coughed frequently and seemed to become easily exhausted, even while seated, said the man, who did not want his name used because of the potential danger. Bin Laden took milk, rather than the traditional tea, for refreshment, he said.

''The sheik speaks for five or 10 minutes,'' he said, ''and then he drinks some milk and gets up and walks around.''

The Afghan also spoke to a doctor who accompanied bin Laden to the valley and was told bin Laden's ailment is related to his circulation and his blood ''is not being cleaned in the right way.''

''I asked him, 'Why is the sheik very weak, very unhappy looking?' and he told me, 'He is very sick.'''

The Afghan doctor also told the man the problem was with bin Laden's ''jigger,'' the Pashtu word for liver.

The United States is offering a $5 million reward for bin Laden's capture. In November the United Nations imposed sanctions on the Taliban to press for him to be handed over for trial.

The Taliban have refused, saying Afghan tradition forbids handing over guests to enemies.

With bin Laden in Afghanistan and radical Islamic groups based in Pakistan, security for Clinton's five-hour visit today was extraordinary. The Pakistani capital was virtually sealed off Friday, with armed soldiers standing guard at Islamabad's main intersections and on rooftops of major public buildings.

The only countries that recognize the Taliban's authority are Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates; Pakistan is considered the religious militia's greatest ally.

Bin Laden told meeting attendees that the Taliban leadership would collapse if it bowed to U.S. demands.

''Don't worry,'' the Afghan quoted Bin Laden as telling his followers. ''There are many in the Taliban that would defend against turning me over to anyone, and any Taliban leader who would try would regret it.''


Copyright 2000

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