The many deaths of Osama bin Laden

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A look back at the years of false reports that preceded Sunday night’s announcement of the real thing
By Justin Elliott
Salon.com

FILE – In this 1998 file photo, Ayman al-Zawahri, left, holds a press conference with Osama bin Laden in Khost, Afghanistan and made available Friday March 19, 2004. A person familiar with developments said Sunday, May 1, 2011 that bin Laden is dead and the U.S. has the body.
(AP Photo/Mazhar Ali Khan)

The false reports of Osama bin Laden’s death began almost immediately after Sept. 11, 2001, and persisted at a rate of at least once or twice a year, every year. The reports — generated by (usually anonymous) statements by American officials and a dizzying array of foreign sources — often generated international headlines.

Here’s a sampling:

July 2002 FBI counterterrorism chief Dale Watson tells a law enforcement conference of bin Laden: “I personally think he is probably not with us anymore, but I have no evidence to support that.”

August 2002 Popular conspiracy-mongering radio host Alex Jones announces, citing high-level Bush administration sources, “that bin Laden died of natural causes and that his family has given the body to the CIA.” Jones added, “they’re gonna roll him out right before the election, he’s on ice right now.”

May 2003 French military analyst announces that bin Laden was killed in an American air raid in Tora Bora shortly after the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

February 2004 Iranian Radio reports that bin Laden was captured in the Afghan-Pakistan border area “a long time ago” — but the official announcement was delayed because “Bush is intending to use it for propaganda maneuvering in the presidential election.”

April 2005 The Israeli press picks up an account from a radical Muslim London newspaper: “We now report that the al-Qaeda organization has announced the death of Osama Bin Laden.”

September 2006 French intel document says that Saudis believe bin Laden had died of typhoid in Pakistan.

June 2008 : Citing two unnamed officials, Time magazine reports that a recent CIA study has concluded bin Laden has long-term kidney disease and “may only have months to live.”

April 2009 Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari tells the media that his country’s intel services “obviously feel that [bin Laden] does not exist anymore”

May 2011 President Obama announces that the U.S. killed bin Laden in Pakistan.

Justin Elliott is a Salon reporter.

Editor’s Note:
Interesting review of OBL death reports (in spite of the journalist’s editorialized introduction)…
See also this editorial at Salon.com, “USA! USA!” is the wrong response, by David Sorota.
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