Some of Osama bin Laden’s bodyguards have been captured and are among the prisoners at the US military base in Cuba, American officials say.
The men were part of bin Laden’s al-Qaida entourage, assigned to personally protect the exiled Saudi millionaire.
But how much information about bin Laden they can - or will - give to US authorities remains unclear.
The bodyguards are among 564 suspected Taliban or al-Qaida members being held in metal cells at the US Navy base at Guantanamo Bay.
Most of the detainees were captured in Afghanistan or Pakistan during the US-led war which began on October 7.
Military officials said yesterday they did not know how many members of bin Laden’s security detail were detainees or when and where they were captured.
A senior US official with knowledge of the matter said the bodyguards had been in US custody since February.
Some of them have served bin Laden for years and have travelled extensively with the al-Qaida leader in Afghanistan, the official said.
Bin Laden has a reputation for being meticulous about his security, choosing bodyguards for their loyalty and willingness to sacrifice themselves to protect him.
While the detained bodyguards were among those who stayed closest physically to bin Laden, their job was to provide muscle, not advice.
His bodyguards are not expected to know much about attacks in the works beyond the stray snippets of conversations they may have overheard between bin Laden and his lieutenants, officials said.
But they could provide US interrogators with information about bin Laden’s movements and security precautions - although these are things bin Laden would be expected to change if his bodyguards were captured.
Officials have said one of bin Laden’s many sons, Mohammed, is part of his father’s security detail.
Mohammed bin Laden is not believed to be in custody. US officials another of bin Laden’s sons, Saad, is gaining influence as an al-Qaida leader.
Bin Laden’s security chief is an Egyptian, Saif al-Adl.
He is wanted in connection with al-Qaida’s 1998 bombings of two US embassies in Africa.
Al-Adl is regarded as a key leader in al-Qaida, and officials have suggested he is capable of running the organisation if bin Laden is killed.
But the fact that some of bin Laden’s bodyguards have been captured does not necessarily indicate bin Laden is dead.
Recent military intelligence reports have not supported that idea, and the military believes bin Laden could be alive, according to a US Defence Department official.
Still, bin Laden’s last appearance on video was more than seven months ago, and FBI counter-terrorism chief Dale Watson said earlier this month he believed bin Laden was dead.
The last time US officials acknowledged they had a credible fix on his location was in December, when he was believed to be in the Tora Bora region.
He is thought to have fled as America’s Afghan allies approached.
US and Canadian experts later exhumed 23 elaborately marked graves in Tora Bora, the rugged Afghan mountain region near the Pakistan border dotted with reinforced caves.
Those graves held the bodies of other members of bin Laden’s security detail.
Other evidence suggests bin Laden may have ditched most of his entourage in favour of just a few highly-trusted associates.
Published reports said a video found by allied forces in February showed bin Laden camping with just a few other people.
Defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld said last week he did not know if bin Laden was dead or alive.
"I’ve not heard hide nor hair of him since December," Rumsfeld said.
"He’s either dead, which is fine from our standpoint, or he’s alive and for some reason decides he does not want to live up to his reputation as enjoying going on videos and letting the world know that he’s alive."