The reports of the death of Sa'ad bin Laden — son of Osama Bin Laden — may or may not be greatly exaggerated, to borrow from Mark Twain.
Yesterday, NPR first reported that he was allegedly killed in a drone attack in Pakistan several months ago. NPR quoted a source saying the CIA was "80-85 percent certain" he was dead. The source also said Saeed bin Laden wasn't specifically targeted but rather "was in the wrong place at the wrong time." That he was actively involved with Al Qaeda but was not a major enough of a player to target with hellfire missiles.
In 2002, the Associated Press reported that Sa'ad was believed to have played a major role in the bombing of a synagogue in Tunisia which killed 19 people on April 11, 2002.
Today, ABC News The Blotter reports that the CIA withheld this information for months as a way of "messing with al-Qaeda" (read: to conduct psychological warfare against the enemy). Their reporters don't identify the source for the quote and it doesn't strike me as something a CIA officer would say precisely.
My take is that the CIA is entirely unsure if Sa'ad bin Laden is in fact dead. Shortly after Christmas last year, at the tail end of the first major Predator strike campaign in Pakistan, ABC News reported that a Predator drone killed one of FBI's Most Wanted Terrorists, Fahid Mohammed Msalam. Several months ago, the FBI would not confirm with me Msalam's status — whether he is considered dead or alive. As of today, Msalam remains listed with the FBI as a fugitive from justice. There is still a $5 million bounty on his head.
The interesting piece of the puzzle is how the CIA allegedly received reports of Sa'ad bin Laden's death: through chatter intercepts. Wouldn't Al Qaeda use the death of a bin Laden by a Predator drone strike as a means to make him a martyr? Or does it make Al Qaeda look weak and helpless against advanced American technology to the extent that Al Qaeda wanted to keep the death out of the public eye?
Why report this now?