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Taliban leader makes first public appearance: officials

October 31, 2021

The Taliban's reclusive supreme leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, has been seen in public for the first time since he took control of the group in 2016, officials have said. His appearance may ease rumors of his death.

Taliban leader Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada
Hibatullah Akhundzada is the ultimate authority in all political, religious and military affairs within the TalibanImage: CPA Media Co. Ltd/picture alliance

Taliban supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada made his first public appearance since taking control of the group, Taliban officials said Sunday.

If true, this would be his first public appearance in Afghanistan.

His absence from the public sphere had fueled speculation over his role within the new Taliban government formed in mid-August, with some rumors of his death.

According to officials, Akhundzada visited the Darul Uloom Hakimah madrassa in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar late Saturday.

'Big test' for Taliban government

Akhundzada addressed his supporters, "brave soldiers and disciples," according to the introduction to an audio clip circulated by Taliban social media accounts.

"May God reward the oppressed people of Afghanistan who fought the infidels and the oppressors for 20 years," Akhundzada could be heard saying in the audio clip.

"My intention here is to pray for you and you pray for me," he said in the 10-minute recording.

He said Taliban officials faced a "big test" of rebuilding what they call the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

"Let's pray that we come out of this big test successfully. May Allah help us stay strong," he said.

There were no photographs or video of his appearance, which took place under tight security.

Who is Hibatullah Akhundzada?

Akhundzada, a religious scholar, has led the Taliban since his predecessor, Akhtar Mansour, was killed by a US drone strike in 2016.

He is the ultimate authority in all political, religious and military affairs within the militant group.

Akhundzada has remained a reclusive figure even after the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan.

Within the Taliban, he is seen as more of a spiritual figurehead than a military commander.

adi/sri (AFP, dpa)