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Bin Laden sightings in the United States

Cartoon by Carlos Latuff depicting bin Laden as a pilot with American Airlines

When authorities from the United States began scouring the globe looking for the location of Osama bin Laden following the September 11 attacks in 2001, there were a number of unconfirmed sightings of Bin Laden in the United States.

Although some scholars believe that bin Laden took his new wife to visit the cities of Indianapolis and Los Angeles in 1978,[1] all later suggestions of bin Laden entering the United States were typically treated by authorities with skepticism, but were followed up at least cursorily.[2] In actuality, although many analysts believed he was hiding in South Asia, there were no confirmed sightings of bin Laden from December 2001 to May 2011.[3] Lt. Charles Illsley of the West Valley City Police said that "When, day after day, media reports focus on a single person like Bundy or bin Laden, it is not too big a leap for somebody to go outside and think they see him. Images stick."[citation needed]

All of these sightings were dismissed after bin Laden was confirmed dead after a U.S. raid in Pakistan on May 1, 2011.

Reported sightings

In the immediate investigation surrounding the attacks, FBI agent Brian Rielly canvassed an apartment block to inquire about Osama Awadallah, and were told by a woman that she had seen Osama bin Laden himself sharing an apartment with the 21-year-old student who was later acquitted.[4][5]

In October 2001, a woman, sounding "very well-meaning and serious about her concern", told emergency dispatchers that she had encountered Osama bin Laden at a 7-Eleven convenience store in Pleasant View, Utah.[6]

On December 17, 2001, a man in Colorado Springs, Colorado informed authorities that he had seen the terrorist attending a Rotary Club event earlier in the day.[7]

In May 2002, a caller phoned police in San Mateo, California, to report that they had just seen Osama bin Laden hanging around the Caltrain station.[8]

In 2003, a radio caller to George Noory's Coast to Coast AM reported seeing bin Laden in Florida.

Several dozen people had reported seeing bin Laden in Utah; driving a Volkswagen Beetle on I-80, in the mall, at McDonald's, or in a Provo 7-Eleven purchasing a Big Gulp by January 2002.[2][9] Predominantly a Mormon state, this urban legend relies on the tenuous permittance of plural marriage in Utah, and its generally arid climate, to justify why the leader of al-Qaeda would choose it as his hiding place.[10] In response to the claims, Utah authorities told media that Bin Laden's face had been one of those loaded into a facial recognition program for surveillance cameras at the E Center arena, expected to host the Olympic hockey tournament in 2002.[2]

An artist in Culver City, California phoned the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to report that she had seen Bin Laden in a local grocery store, and reassured them that she was an artist and knew how to recognize faces and was certain it was him.[11]

In June 2007, the unemployed Thomas Potter of Olmsted Falls, Ohio, wrote to the Department of Defense, as well as the media, requesting the $25 million reward for finding bin Laden, noting that had three listings for the shadowy leader; one that suggested he worked at Fox News, another suggesting he worked at Bethesda Interactive Solutions, and a third suggesting he lived in Hermitage, Tennessee.[12]

In February 2008, a woman reported to police that she had seen Osama bin Laden at the library in Bellingham, Washington.[13]


In December 2001, The New Yorker magazine carried a satirical list of leads that the FBI had followed up since the attacks, noting "#6: Lady in Denver claims she saw Osama bin Laden driving off the fifth tee at her country club."[14]

A 2004 Disassociated Press satire suggested that careful analysis of as-Sahab videos indicated bin Laden was hiding in Massachusetts.

When a remote Alaskan fishing village, with a total population of only 2,400 residents, received more than $200,000 in federal Homeland Security funds to install surveillance cameras in 2005, it led to jokes about Osama bin Laden hiding in the village.[15]

In August 2005, a frustrated resident of York, Pennsylvania, told the local newspaper that he had seen bin Laden disappear in the tall weeds around Willis Run, and suggested tongue-in-cheek that perhaps the Department of Homeland Security should finally come take care of the county's weed problem.[16]

In a 2009 sketch on Saturday Night Live, actors spoofed American politician Sarah Palin informing journalist Katie Couric that she suffered dozens of "false alarms" driving through New York, believing she had just seen Bin Laden driving a taxicab.

See also


  1. ^ Bergen, Peter, "The Osama bin Laden I Know', 2006.
  2. ^ a b c Quad-Cities Times, Bin Laden seen in Utah; Elvis still at large, January 3, 2002
  3. ^ Daily Nation, Osama remains as lethal as ever, September 20, 2009
  4. ^ New York Post, Woman, Osama in my neighbor, February 16, 2002
  5. ^ Transcript Archived June 11, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ Standard Examiner, Bin Laden spotted in Pleasant View?[permanent dead link], October 18, 2001
  7. ^ Colorado Springs Gazette, The Buzz: No. 1 fugitive may be lost in Antlers garage, December 29, 2001
  8. ^ San Mateo Daily Journal, Police briefs Archived 2011-07-16 at the Wayback Machine, May 24, 2002
  9. ^ Lakeland Ledger, "If you're looking for Osama, he's in Salt Lake City", January 18, 2002
  10. ^ Harding, Nick. "Urban Legends", 2005. p. 112
  11. ^ Midseason Replacements, America’s Next Top Model: There Is No Room For Normal in Modeling
  12. ^ ABC News, Internet absurdity: Bin Laden listed at FOX Headquarters, June 7, 2007
  13. ^ Bellingham Herald, Osama bin Laden sighting? , February 20, 200
  14. ^ The New Yorker, "Shouts and Murmers", December 17, 2001
  15. ^ Gordon, Larry. Los Angeles Times, Pondering the costs of terror protection, July 10, 2006
  16. ^ York Daily Record, Letters to the Editor, August 10, 2205