As experts examine a tape of Osama bin Laden for clues about his whereabouts, ABCNEWS has learned that intelligence reports indicate the world's most wanted man may have received medical treatment in Pakistan after the U.S. military offensive in Afghanistan.
The latest speculation about bin Laden's health and movements came as a British daily newspaper acquired a 40-minute tape of the al Qaeda chief from the Britain-based Al-Ansaar Islamic news agency over the weekend.
Officials at Al-Ansaar said they received the tape, which includes three sections apparently filmed at different times, from a Pakistani security official in Islamabad about a month ago.
According to Al-Ansaar, the tape was shot in March, but a senior editor at Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based Arabic television network, said today the station had received the tape four months ago and he believed the tape was recorded in October last year.
"We didn't show [the tape] because we didn't think it was newsworthy," Ibrahim Helal told the Associated Press. "There was nothing new in it and [it] seemed to be a P.R. stunt."
In recent months, there has been much speculation about the Saudi-born terrorist mastermind's health, since a previous tape, which was aired in December, showed a pallid and gaunt-looking bin Laden.
But amid widespread reports that bin Laden suffers from a persistent kidney problem, ABCNEWS' John Miller today said that on viewing the new tape, there appeared to be no further deterioration in the master terrorist's health.
"He looks about the same or not much better than he did in the tape that we believe was made and released around December, probably in Tora Bora [in eastern Afghanistan]," Miller told ABCNEWS' Good Morning America today.
ABCNEWS has learned that intelligence reports indicate bin Laden had received a kidney transplant in Pakistan. The reports suggested that after the medical procedure, which was financed by bin Laden's al Qaeda network, the Saudi fugitive was probably on the move again.
While the whereabouts of the world's most wanted man has been the subject of intense scrutiny and speculation for more than six months, ABCNEWS has learned that intelligence reports indicate that the U.S. operation in Afghanistan had made it difficult for bin Laden to live in the region and that he may have headed to the relative comfort of his ancestral homeland, Yemen.
Although bin Laden was born in Riyadh, in Saudi Arabia, the family hails from northern Yemen, where the bin Laden clan apparently enjoys widespread tribal support in the remote mountainous region of northern Yemen.
Leaves Could Provide Clues
Experts examining the latest tape were focusing on a 100-second clip in the tape that showed bin Laden dressed in fatigues and seated outdoors under a tree against a backdrop of rolling hills.
But Miller, the only Western journalist to interview the Saudi-born militant, said that while the presence of leaves provided some clues, they supplied no certainty about when the tape was shot.
"It could have been made after Sept. 11 or it could have been made two weeks ago," Miller told Good Morning America today. "It doesn't tell us anything with certainty, but it is a clue."
Editors at Al-Ansaar said the footage was part of a 40-minute film that the agency obtained in Pakistan four weeks ago. It was brought to Britain on an encrypted CD-ROM.