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Fbi thinks dead

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FBI Boss Thinks bin Laden is Dead
Wed Jul 17, 5:23 PM ET
By CHRISTOPHER NEWTON, Associated Press Writer

FBI ( news - web sites) counterterrorism chief Dale Watson said Wednesday that he believes Osama bin Laden ( news - web sites) is dead the first time a senior U.S. law enforcement official publicly has given an opinion on the al-Qaida leader's status.

Watson quickly emphasized that he had no evidence that the suspected mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks was dead. But his comments, at a conference of local law enforcement officials from across the country, suggest the FBI has no direct intelligence that proves bin Laden is alive.

"Is (bin Laden) alive or is he dead?" Watson said. "I am not really sure of the answer ... I personally think he is probably not with us anymore but I have no evidence to support that."

Watson also said bin Laden's al-Qaida network of terrorist training camps has been dismantled, but "there is no question in my mind ... we will be attacked again."

The terrorist "fleas" infesting the country "want to kill you," Watson said. "They could be in your neighborhood."

He said the government is committed to sharing information with the public when the FBI has specific information of a terrorist threat.

Watson, who rarely makes public appearances, is the top official for counterterrorism and counterintelligence in the FBI. He did not elaborate on his comments on bin Laden and rushed away from reporters after he spoke.

Some U.S. and Justice Department ( news - web sites) officials said they were surprised by Watson's comments. They said the Bush administration's position remains that bin Laden's whereabouts and status are unknown. FBI officials declined comment.

Watson joined the FBI as a special agent in 1978. In June, 1996 he joined the CIA ( news - web sites) for several months, working as a deputy to the head of the intelligence agency's counterterrorism center. He returned to the FBI in January 1997 to take charge of international terrorism affairs and in 1999 he was named director of the agency's Counterterrorism Division.

Since December, reports of bin Laden's well-being have been sporadic and from different sources.

This month, a London-based Arabic newspaper said bin Laden was wounded in a U.S. bombing raid in Afghanistan ( news - web sites) last year but was in good health.

There was no way to verify the report in London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi. U.S. officials say they have no evidence bin Laden was wounded in the U.S. bombing of al-Qaida hide-outs in Tora Bora, Afghanistan, late last year, but acknowledge it is a possibility.

The newspaper's editor said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press that bin Laden had surgery to remove shrapnel from his left shoulder.

On Saturday, the head of Germany's Federal Intelligence Service was quoted as saying bin Laden was alive and hiding along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

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