"Most terrorists" says Dr. Ibrahim al-Bakr, of the Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province Institute for Disease Control, "don't realize that they are a top risk group for pandemics." And, yet, according to Dr. al-Bakr, the poor sanitation and nutrition available in al-Qaeda leadership hideouts combined with the relatively large number of international contacts kept through the world al-Qaeda network is a recipe for contagion disaster. "With contacts in Africa, the Phillipines, Europe, and the United States, al-Qaeda is like a trawling net for the world's diseases. Terrorists may think that they are only carrying bombs, but they are also carrying germs--most often to their own comrades and leaders" says al-Bakr "Along with the elderly and pregnant women, I would put high-ranking terrorists at the top of the list for swine flu vaccine. And yet, for political reasons, they never come to my office."
Scattered reports indicate that top al-Qaeda leaders may already be suffering the consequences of their lack of careful healthcare planning. "Do you want to know why Osama hasn't put out a video in years?" said a Taiban operative who wished to remain anonymous, but would like to say hello to his wife, Aaila, and sons, Yeslam and Tim, "It's because he's been dealing with one bug after another, and it never seems to let up. Last time we tried to make a video, his voice kept cracking--you can't denounce the United States when you sound like you're going through puberty. American teenagers do that all the time, and who pays any attention to them?"
Another contact, closer to Bin Laden, said "I think he might have H1N1, but he gets angry when anyone suggests it because of the 'swine flu' nickname. I'm worried about him. He doesn't always drink enough liquids, and that's very bad when you're sick like this."
In rural Pakistan, there is no "other white meat" but H1N1
cases are still on the rise.
Is it possible that Bin Laden might succumb to the flu pandemic? We met up with Taliban commander Tariq Khan, who was on a scouting trip in Peshawar, to ask him this question. "Obviously, we're concerned about his health" the commander confirmed, "we can dodge the world's most powerful army, but viruses are a whole different challenge. His spirits are good, though."
What's the Al Qaeda plan if Bin Laden does succumb to disease? "He says that if he dies we're to hide the body well," says Khan, "and perhaps the United States will eventually bankrupt itself looking for him."
In the meantime, Dr. al-Bakr warns all terrorists of any rank to wash their hands regularly, cover their mouths when they cough, and (preferably in times of health as well as when they feel sick) avoid showing up to work.
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