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Published: Saturday, 10/23/2004

Where's Osama been hiding?

IS OSAMA bin Laden alive or dead? And if Osama is alive, where is he?

"President Bush knows damn well that [bin Laden] has been dead for quite some time, " said former Navy SEAL Matthew Heidt, echoing the sentiments of many in the Special Operations community.

Bin Laden "has not been heard from since Tora Bora despite developments in the Global War on Terror that make it unthinkable for him to remain silent," Mr. Heidt said in his web log, "Froggy Ruminations."

The last audiotape purportedly from bin Laden (but not authenticated) was issued on May 7. But Gregory Djerejian (Belgravia Dispatch), who shares Mr. Heidt's view, notes that the last video tapes from bin Laden were made public Oct. 19 and Sept. 11, 2003. There was nothing on those videotapes that indicates when they were made, and they show a much healthier bin Laden than the gaunt fellow in the videotape released Dec. 26, 2001, suggesting they were made before then.

"Does anyone seriously believe that (bin Laden) wouldn't, if he were alive, be doing his very damnedest to release a tape, soonest, rubbing Bush's nose in it for not having caught him?" Mr. Djerejian asked.

Mr. Djerejian notes al-Qaeda released three tapes between December, 2002, and April, 2003. None of them featured bin Laden.

Richard Miniter, author of a new book on the war on terror, Shadow War, thinks bin Laden is alive, and quotes several "senior administration officials" to that effect. Bin Laden is in Pakistan, or maybe Iran, he thinks.

There is a simple explanation for why bin Laden has made no more videotapes. He and No. 1 aide Ayman al-Zawahiri have changed their appearance in order to avoid detection, and consequently have no desire to show off their new "look" on television.

If bin Laden has bitten the green weenie, it is more likely because of kidney failure than from thermobaric bombs at Tora Bora. Bin Laden has an ailment that requires dialysis three or four times a week, at 4-5 hours a session. Treatment like this is tough to get in your typical Afghan cave.

This is why I believe that if bin Laden is still alive, he mostly likely is in Iran. If he were somewhere where he could be sheltered by the state, he could get the medical care that would be tough to obtain if he were constantly on the run.

If bin Laden is in Iran, he has lots of company, according to the newspaper Asharq al-Awsat. The Saudi-owned London based daily reported July 15 that nearly 400 members of al-Qaeda, including 18 of its top leaders, have taken refuge in Iran, chiefly near the town of Chalous on the Caspian coast, about 60 miles north of Tehran.

There have been many reported sightings of bin Laden in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran (and in Chechnya, Sudan, and the Philippines), which is to be expected when someone has a $25 million price on his head. But bin Laden probably doesn't look like the bin Laden we knew.

At least some of the sightings may very well have been of doubles, thinks Dan Darling (Regnum Crucis):

"When Pakistani forces launched a major offensive against al-Qaeda and its Pashtun tribal allies in April, they were quite certain they had Ayman al-Zawahiri cornered," Mr. Darling said. "They ended up killing the man they believed to be al-Zawahiri, who was protected by hundreds of fighters, only to learn that it was an Uzbek named Thuraya who apparently was serving as al-Zawahiri's body double.

"Who's to say that the 'Osama' that any number of U.S. and Pakistani detainees claim to have seen isn't just another such double? Their presence would serve to keep U.S., Pakistani, and Afghan forces hunting in the tribal areas, all the while the real bin Laden was hundreds of miles away."

If Osama is in Iran, it means that the heavy lifting has yet to be done in the war on terror, and the Axis of Evil is more tightly knit than many suppose. Chalous, the town where the al-Qaeda hierarchy is said to have taken refuge, is, according to GlobalSecurity.Org, "the locale of an underground nuclear weapons facility staffed by experts from Russia, China, and North Korea."



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