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Mullah Omar still lives

July 20, 2011

The Taliban have denied rumours that their supreme leader, Mullah Omar, has died. For their part they have accused the US of hacking their telephones and websites.

The rarely photographed Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar.
The rarely photographed Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar.Image: AP

A spokesman for the Taliban, Qari Yosuf Ahmadi, insisted that someone had hacked into one of their phones: "That is a false message. The westerners hacked into our cellphones and sent the message from our numbers to everyone. They want to deceive the Afghan people. It's wrong. he is not dead, but alive." Yousuf described the hack as an attempt at psychological warfare. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has refused to comment on the issue.

Text message creates confusion

Earlier, confusion was caused by a text message to the media, allegedly from Taiban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid which read, "Leadership council of IEA(Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) announces that Ameer ul Mumineen(Mullah Omar) has passed away. May mighty God bless him". However, shortly after, Zabiullah Mujahideen gave a statement over the telephone saying that this message was a fake and that the US had hacked their telephone connections. He said, " We strongly reject this claim. We are not aware of such news. Americans have hacked our cellphones with advanced technology and sent the message to the media."

A screenshot of the Taliban website
A screenshot of the Taliban website

The Afghan government has also confirmed that it has not received any information which may confirm Mullah Omar's death. Kandahar's deputy chief of intelligence, Abdul Wahab Salih said, " We have received reports that a message has been spread by the Taliban about Mullah Omar's death but our intelligence sources as well as the government have not received any official confirmation of his death."

Rumours about Mullah Omar have been common in the past. In May, after US forces killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, Afghan intelligence said Omar had escaped from his hideout in Pakistan's city of Quetta.

A senior US General, Richard Mills, also claimed that western forces were pursuing Omar and he should be 'worried'. He said that the raid on Bin Laden's house in Abbottabad demonstrated Washington's commitment to its anti-Taliban operations. Mills added, " If I was Mullah Omar I would certainly be worried. It shows the Americans are focused."

Mullah Omar fled from Afghanistan in 2001 after the Taliban government was ousted by US led forces. He is believed to have settled in the Pakistani city of Quetta where he and some other Taliban leaders formed the "Quetta Shura" or the Quetta leadership council.

Afghan officials have not confirmed any news of Omar's death
Afghan officials have not confirmed any news of Omar's deathImage: AP

The Taliban's aggressive media campaign

Earlier, some journalists had also reported messages announcing Omar's death on Taliban websites. The Taliban is known to regularly update its website and its social media pages. The organisation also regularly changes its website addresses and links its news to dating or online shopping sites.

According to Pakistani author Ahmed Rashid, the Taliban's media outreach before 2001 was practically zero and that they quickly learnt to adapt to new technologies. Thomas Ruttig, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network says that the Taliban's current affinity to the internet can also be attributed to the increasing number of young recruits." Islamists, even the early modernist and non-violent ones like Sayed Jamaluddin Afghani or the Egyptian Muhammad Abdu, have always recommended the use of advanced Western technology to overcome the West's domination," he said.

Security transition in danger?

However, the Taliban still fears that the use of modern technology may give away the whereabouts of top operatives. Moreover, they are also concerned that ordinary people could use cellphones to pass on information to foreign troops. Recently there have been reports that the Taliban smashed the cellphones of villagers in the Panjwai district of restive Kandahar province.

The Taliban still exercise substantial control in Kandahar. Security forces working there have a tough job at hand
The Taliban still exercise substantial control in Kandahar. Security forces working there have a tough job at handImage: AP

Meanwhile, concerns are growing about Afghanistan's security after international forces leave in 2014. Afghan security forces in the southern province of Kandahar and the northern city, Mazar i Sharif have been ambushed by the Taliban. The Chief of Police in Kandahar, Abdul Razziq, revealed that three policemen had been killed and six more wounded when two gunmen attacked district one.

The provincial police chief of Mazar i Sharif city, Sherjan Durani, said a bicycle bomb had exploded and caused some casualties there. Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, has again stressed the need for Afghanistan to provide its own security. On Wednesday, Afghan forces took over security in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province.

Author: Manasi Gopalakrishnan(Reuters/dpa/afpe)

Editor: Grahame Lucas