Has Osama Bin Laden been dead for seven years - and are the U.S. and Britain covering it up to continue war on terror?
The last time we heard a squeak from him was on June 3 this year.
The world's most notorious terrorist outsmarted America by releasing a menacing message as Air Force One touched down on Saudi Arabian soil at the start of Barack Obama's first and much vaunted Middle East tour.
Even before the new President alighted at Riyadh airport to shake hands with Prince Abdullah, Bin Laden's words were being aired on TV, radio and the internet across every continent.
It was yet another propaganda coup for the 52-year-old Al Qaeda leader. In the audiotape delivered to the Arab news network Al Jazeera, Bin Laden said that America and her Western allies were sowing seeds of hatred in the Muslim world and deserved dire consequences.
It was the kind of rant we have heard from him before, and the response from British and U.S. intelligence services was equally predictable.
They insisted that the details on the tape, of the President's visit and other contemporary events, proved that the mastermind of 9/11, America's worst ever terrorist atrocity, was still alive - and that the hunt for him must go on.
Bin Laden has always been blamed for orchestrating the horrific attack - in which nearly 3,000 people perished - eight years ago this week. President George W. Bush made his capture a national priority, infamously promising with a Wild West flourish to take him 'dead or alive'.
The U.S. State Department offered a reward of $50million for his whereabouts. The FBI named him one of their ten 'most wanted' fugitives, telling the public to watch out for a left-handed, grey-bearded gentleman who walks with a stick.
Yet this master terrorist remains elusive. He has escaped the most extensive and expensive man-hunt in history, stretching across Waziristan, the 1,500 miles of mountainous badlands on the borders of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Undeterred, Barack Obama has launched a fresh operation to find him. Working with the Pakistani Army, elite squads of U.S. and British special forces were sent into Waziristan this summer to 'hunt and kill' the shadowy figure intelligence officers still call 'the principal target' of the war on terror.
This new offensive is, of course, based on the premise that the 9/11 terrorist is alive. After all, there are the plethora of 'Bin Laden tapes' to prove it.
Yet what if he isn't? What if he has been dead for years, and the British and U.S. intelligence services are actually playing a game of double bluff?
What if everything we have seen or heard of him on video and audio tapes since the early days after 9/11 is a fake - and that he is being kept 'alive' by the Western allies to stir up support for the war on terror?
Incredibly, this is the breathtaking theory that is gaining credence among political commentators, respected academics and even terror experts.
Of course, there have been any number of conspiracy theories concerning 9/11, and it could be this is just another one.
But the weight of opinion now swinging behind the possibility that Bin Laden is dead - and the accumulating evidence that supports it - makes the notion, at the very least, worthy of examination.
The theory first received an airing in the American Spectator magazine earlier this year when former U.S. foreign intelligence officer and senior editor Angelo M. Codevilla, a professor of international relations at Boston University, stated bluntly: 'All the evidence suggests Elvis Presley is more alive today than Osama Bin Laden.'
Prof Codevilla pointed to inconsistencies in the videos and claimed there have been no reputable sightings of Bin Laden for years (for instance, all interceptions by the West of communications made by the Al Qaeda leader suddenly ceased in late 2001).
Prof Codevilla asserted: 'The video and audio tapes alleged to be Osama's never convince the impartial observer,' he asserted. 'The guy just does not look like Osama. Some videos show him with a Semitic, aquiline nose, while others show him with a shorter, broader one. Next to that, differences between the colours and styles of his beard are small stuff.'
There are other doubters, too. Professor Bruce Lawrence, head of Duke University's religious studies' department and the foremost Bin Laden expert, argues that the increasingly secular language in the video and audio tapes of Osama (his earliest ones are littered with references to God and the Prophet Mohammed) are inconsistent with his strict Islamic religion, Wahhabism.
He notes that, on one video, Bin Laden wears golden rings on his fingers, an adornment banned among Wahhabi followers.
This week, still more questions have been raised with the publication in America and Britain of a book called Osama Bin Laden: Dead or Alive?
Written by political analyst and philosopher Professor David Ray Griffin, former emeritus professor at California's Claremont School of Theology, it is provoking shock waves - for it goes into far more detail about his supposed death and suggests there has been a cover-up by the West.
The book claims that Bin Laden died of kidney failure, or a linked complaint, on December 13, 2001, while living in Afghanistan's Tora Bora mountains close to the border with Waziristan.
His burial took place within 24 hours, in line with Muslim religious rules, and in an unmarked grave, which is a Wahhabi custom.
The author insists that the many Bin Laden tapes made since that date have been concocted by the West to make the world believe Bin Laden is alive. The purpose? To stoke up waning support for the war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan.
To understand Griffin's thesis, we must remember the West's reaction to 9/11, that fateful sunny September day in 2001. Within a month, on Sunday, October 7, the U.S. and Britain launched massive retaliatory air strikes in the Tora Bora region where they said 'prime suspect' Bin Laden was living 'as a guest of Afghanistan'.
This military offensive ignored the fact that Bin Laden had already insisted four times in official Al Qaeda statements made to the Arab press that he played no role in 9/11.
Indeed, on the fourth occasion, on September 28 and a fortnight after the atrocity, he declared emphatically: 'I have already said I am not involved. As a Muslim, I try my best to avoid telling a lie. I had no knowledge... nor do I consider the killing of innocent women, children and other humans as an appreciable act.'
Within hours of the October 7 strikes by the U.S. on Tora Bora, Bin Laden made his first ever appearance on video tape. Dressed in Army fatigues, and with an Islamic head-dress, he had an assault rifle propped behind him in a broadly lit mountain hideout. Significantly, he looked pale and gaunt.
Although he called President George W. Bush 'head of the infidels' and poured scorn on the U.S., he once again rejected responsibility for 9/11.
'America was hit by God in one of its softest spots. America is full of fear, from its north to its south, from its west to its east. Thank God for that.'
Then came a second videotape on November 3, 2001. Once again, an ailing Bin Laden lashed out at the United States. He urged true Muslims to celebrate the attacks - but did not at any time acknowledge he had been involved in the atrocity.
And then there was silence until December 13, 2001 - the date Griffin claims Bin Laden died. That very day, the U.S. Government released a new video of the terror chief. In this tape, Bin Laden contradicted all his previous denials, and suddenly admitted to his involvement in the atrocity of 9/11.
The tape had reportedly been found by U.S. troops in a private home in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, after anti-Taliban forces took over the city. A label attached to it claimed that it had been made on November 9, 2001.
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