Afghanistan confirms Taliban leader Mullah Omar is dead

KABUL, July 29

Taliban supremo Mullah Omar died two years ago in Pakistan, Afghanistan said on Wednesday, after unnamed government and militant sources reported the demise of the reclusive warrior-cleric.

The insurgents have not officially confirmed the death of the supreme leader of the Taliban, who has not been seen publicly since the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan that toppled the Taliban government in Kabul.

Rumours of Omar’s ill-health and even death have regularly surfaced in the past, but the latest claims — just two days before fresh peace talks with the insurgents — mark the first such confirmation from the Afghan government. “The government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, based on credible information, confirms that Mullah Mohammad Omar, leader of the Taliban died in April 2013 in Pakistan,” a statement from the presidential palace said.

Haseeb Sediqi, the spokesman for the National Directorate of Security, told AFP that Omar died in a Karachi hospital “under mysterious circumstances”.

Omar’s death would mark a significant blow to an almost 14-year insurgency, which is riven by internal divisions and threatened by the rise of the Islamic State group in South Asia.

The official announcement comes after unnamed government and militant sources told media, including AFP, that the one-eyed leader died two or three years ago, and after the Afghan government said it was investigating reports of the death.

“We can confirm that Mullah Omar died two years ago... in Pakistan due to an illness,” a senior official in Afghanistan’s national unity government told AFP earlier. “He was buried in Zabul province (in southern Afghanistan),” said the official, citing Afghan intelligence sources. Omar’s death could trigger a power struggle within the Taliban, observers say, with insurgent sources claiming that Mullah Mansour, the current deputy, and Omar’s son Mohammad Yakoub are both top contenders to replace him.

The Taliban have reportedly seen defections to IS in recent months, with some members expressing disaffection with the low-profile leader Omar.

Earlier this month in a message released in Omar’s name, the leader was quoted as hailing the peace process as “legitimate”.

The comments, the first reportedly made by Omar on the nascent dialogue, eased concerns at the time that the process lacked the leadership’s backing.

Waheed Muzhda, a Kabul-based analyst who served in the 1996-2001 Taliban regime’s foreign ministry, said any confirmation of his death from the militants would bode ill for the unity of their movement. “It would mean that messages sent out in the name of Mullah Omar in the last two years were all lies and deception,” Muzhda told AFP.