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The death of Osama bin Laden gave rise to various conspiracy theories, hoaxes, and rumors. These include the ideas that bin Laden had been dead for years, or is still alive. Doubts about bin Laden's death were fueled by the U.S. military's disposal of his body at sea, the decision to not release any photographic or DNA evidence of bin Laden's death to the public, the contradicting accounts of the incident (with the official story on the raid appearing to change or directly contradict previous assertions), and the 25-minute blackout during the raid on bin Laden's compound during which a live feed from cameras mounted on the helmets of the U.S. special forces was cut off.
On May 2, 2011, an image purporting to show a dead bin Laden was broadcast on Pakistani television. Though the story was picked up by much of the British press, as well the Associated Press, it was swiftly removed from websites after it was exposed as a fake on Twitter.
On May 4, the Obama administration announced it would not release any images of bin Laden's dead body. The administration had considered releasing the photos to dispel rumors of a hoax, at the risks of perhaps prompting another attack by al Qaeda and of releasing very graphic images to people who might find them disturbing. Several photos of the aftermath of the raid were given to Reuters by an anonymous Pakistani security official, but though all appeared to be authentic, they were taken after the U.S. forces had left and none of them included evidence regarding bin Laden's fate.
On May 6, it was reported that an al-Qaeda website acknowledged bin Laden's death. On May 11, Republican senator and Senate Armed Services Committee member Jim Inhofe stated he had viewed "gruesome" photographs of bin Laden's corpse, and later confirmed that the body "was him", adding, "He's history".
The primary source of skepticism about the U.S. government's story has been its own refusal to provide any physical evidence to substantiate its claim. Though the Abbottabad raid has been described in great detail by U.S. officials, no physical evidence constituting actual proof of his death has been offered to the public, neither to journalists nor to independent third parties who have requested this information through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Numerous organizations filed FOIA requests seeking at least a partial release of photographs, videos, and/or DNA test results, including The Associated Press, Reuters, CBS News, Judicial Watch, Politico, Fox News, Citizens United, and NPR. At the time of filing their FOIA request, The Associated Press said:
This information is important for the historical record. That's our view.—Michael Oreskes, Senior Managing Editor, The Associated Press
On April 26, 2012, a US federal judge decided in the case Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of Defense, et al that the DoD did not need to release any evidence to the public. Judicial Watch's president responded to the ruling by saying:
The court got it terribly wrong. There is no provision under the Freedom of Information Act that allows documents to be kept secret because their release might offend our terrorist enemies. We will appeal.—Tom Fitton, President, Judicial Watch
Doubts about bin Laden's death were fueled by the U.S. military's disposal of his body at sea, though U.S. officials maintained that the burial was necessary because arrangements could not be made with any country to bury bin Laden within 24 hours, as dictated by Muslim practice. The Muslim practice has not always been followed by the U.S. in the past. For example, the bodies of Uday Hussein and Qusay Hussein, sons of Saddam Hussein, were held for 11 days before being released for burial. In that instance, however, several Iraqi cities were reluctant to grant a gravesite for Saddam Hussein's sons.
The decision to bury bin Laden at sea was questioned by some Islamic scholars and by some 9/11 victims and their relatives. Professor Peter Romaniuk of John Jay College described the burial at sea as a way to forestall further questions. He stated: "Obviously they’re going to be under pressure to show a body or produce further evidence, but this was a way of taking that issue off the table." A stated advantage of a burial at sea is that the site is not readily identified or accessed, thus preventing it from becoming a focus of attention or "terrorist shrine".
Senior Pakistani officials disseminated the theory that no firefight ever took place, and that whoever the U.S. forces captured, they executed him outside the compound, and took his body away on a helicopter.
Hamid Gul, the former head of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), stated in an interview with CNN that he believed bin Laden had died many years ago, and that the official death story given out by the American media was a hoax. Furthermore, he thinks the American government knew about bin Laden's death for years, "They must have known that he had died some years ago so they were waiting. They were keeping this story on the ice and they were looking for an appropriate moment and it couldn't be a better moment because President Obama had to fight off his first salvo in his next year's election as he runs for the presidential and for the White House and I think it is a very appropriate time to come out, bring this out of the closet."
Yet another scenario was reported in an article in the Urdu newspaper Ausaf, which quoted military sources as saying, "Bin Laden has been killed somewhere else. But since the US intends to extend the Afghan war into Pakistan, and accuse Pakistan, and obtain a permit for its military's entry into the country, it has devised the [assassination] scenario."
Bashir Qureshi, who lives close to the compound where bin Laden was shot and whose windows were blown out in the raid, was dismissive. "Nobody believes it. We've never seen any Arabs around here, he was not here."
A number of Iranians said they believed that bin Laden was working with the U.S. during the entire war on terror. Ismail Kosari, an Iranian MP, said that bin Laden "was just a puppet controlled by the Zionist regime in order to present a violent image of Islam after the September 11 attacks", and that his death "reflects the passing of a temporary US pawn, and symbolizes the end of one era and the beginning of another in American policy in the region". Another MP, Javad Jahangirzadeh, said he believed that it was the U.S. that had carried out the terrorist attacks, and bin Laden was the main source of help. He stated, "The West has been very pleased with bin Laden's operations in recent years. Now the West was forced to kill him in order to prevent a possible leak of information he had, information more precious than gold." Iranian Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi claimed to have "credible information that Bin Laden died some time ago of a disease."
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said "I have exact information that bin Laden was held by the American military for sometime... until the day they killed him he was a prisoner held by them," in a live interview on Iranian state television.
Berkan Yashar, a Turkish politician, stated that bin Laden died of natural causes on June 26, 2006 and was buried. The Americans, he claims, dug out bin Laden's body and displayed it, falsely telling the world that he was killed in an assault.
Facebook groups formed discussing a rumor, in what has been dubbed the "death hoax". Some blogs theorised that the raid and killing were faked, in a conspiracy to attempt to deflect questions about President Obama's citizenship, or to boost Obama's approval ratings and guarantee him popularity during the 2012 U.S. presidential election.
In 2002, the FBI's top counter terrorism official, Dale Watson, said, "I personally think he [Osama bin Laden] is probably not with us anymore." Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan stated "If you believe the newest death of OBL, you’re stupid". Sheehan further stated on her Facebook page, "The only proof of [bin Laden] being dead again that we were offered was Obama telling us that there was a DNA match between the man killed by the Navy SEALs and OBL. Even if it is possible to get DNA done so quickly, and the regime did have bin Laden DNA lying around a lab somewhere – where is the empirical proof?"
On Russia Today, radio host Alex Jones claimed that bin Laden had been dead for nearly ten years, and that his body had been kept in liquid nitrogen so that it can be used as a propaganda tool at a future politically expedient time. In 2002, he claimed that an anonymous White House source had told him that bin Laden "is frozen, literally frozen and that he would be rolled out in the future at some date". In a separate interview in 2002, Steve Pieczenik told Jones that bin Laden had been dead for months. Pieczenik also later suggested that bin Laden had died from complications of Marfan Syndrome in 2002. Jones also pointed to similar comments made by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in 2003, "Yes we have been told by intelligence that they’ve got him, Bush may roll him out but because they exposed that at the election they didn’t do it". Jones further voiced doubts about the official story of bin Laden's death on his radio show telling his listeners, "My friends, this is a complete and total hoax."
The Iranian network Press TV interviewed Webster Tarpley and Stephen Lendman, who both doubted the official story of bin Laden's death. Tarpley said he believed bin Laden had been dead for a long time. He also claimed that the public was deceived by a staged announcement. Both Tarpley and Lendman suggested that Obama's announcement was also an excuse to involve the United States in wars with Pakistan and Middle Eastern nations.
Andrew Napolitano, the host of the Fox Business program Freedom Watch, said bin Laden's death could not be verified and insinuated that Obama was using the death of bin Laden to save his "lousy presidency." On the Fox News morning show Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy challenged the DNA evidence confirming bin Laden's death, saying that the report was "just numbers on a piece of paper." An article in Mediaite criticized Napolitano's remarks, opining that "such conspiracy talk is ultimately beneath Napolitano and his often enlightened discussions."
Canadian deputy Leader of the Opposition and MP, Thomas Mulcair, stated in an interview with CBC Television that "I don't think from what I've heard that those pictures [of bin Laden's body] exist". His remarks were picked up by dozens of U.S. media outlets, and criticized by various Canadian politicians.
An official statement from the Taliban stated that the lack of photos or video footage is suspicious, as their own sources close to bin Laden had not confirmed or denied his death, and that "when the Americans killed Mullah Dadullah (Taliban’s chief military commander) they publicly showed the footage".
Numerous other conspiracy theories relating to bin Laden's death that were discussed include: