The now-denied reports that Osama bin Laden was dead grew out of a rumor passed at an embassy party in Islamabad by a Saudi diplomat attachÃ©, according to intelligence sources in France and Pakistan.
The sources say Saudi Deputy Chief of Mission in Islamabad, Abdullah Zahani, told a French defense attachÃ© of the rumors. The French attachÃ© reportedly felt duty bound to pass on the rumors, in a cable sent with the lowest possible classification normally used to pass on media reports.
A French newspaper apparently obtained the cable and the report on Saturday touched off an international, day-long media panic over bin Ladenâ€™s possible demise.
THE BLOTTER RECOMMENDS
French and Pakistani officials say the Saudis are spending millions of dollars to obtain information in Pakistan from local clerics, journalists, politicians and militants who either have or claim to have contacts in the al Qaeda community in Pakistan.
One of the paid mystery middlemen reportedly told the Saudis that he had heard from an Arab in Pakistan that "al Qaeda's Arabs are now leaving Pakistan in throngs because Bin Laden died of typhoid".
Pakistani intelligence sources say few, if any, of the Saudi sources "are of any value" and that "the Saudis repeatedly get conned by these individuals who claim to have exclusive information."
Pakistani intelligence sources say they have been receiving reports for the past 12 months that some al Qaeda militants are leaving Pakistan for Sudan, Yemen and now Somalia, but certainly not on the scale suggested by the "middleman".
By early Sunday, the Saudi embassies in Washington, D.C. and Islamabad had denied they had any information that bin Laden was dead.