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For the last two years, the Taliban have hidden that their supreme leader is dead

Mullah Omar died in 2013 but the Taliban have recently released quotes in his name.

Updated at 4pm

AFGHANISTAN’S MAIN INTELLIGENCE agency has confirmed that the reclusive supreme leader of the Taliban has been dead for more than two years.

Mullah Omar, the one-eyed Taliban leader, had not been seen since the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan.

The Taliban had hosted Osama Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda in the years leading up to the 11 September attacks. After the invasion, the Taliban waged a decade-long insurgency against US troops.

Abdul Hassib Sediqi, the spokesman for Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security, has now said that Omar died in a hospital in the Pakistani city of Karachi in April 2013.

“We confirm officially that he is dead,” he told The Associated Press.

It was not immediately clear why his death was only being announced now. The Taliban could not immediately be reached for comment. Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said it had no information about the announcement.

Omar’s ill-health and even death have regularly been rumoured in the past.

A former Taliban minister who was once close to Mullah Omar said he had died of tuberculosis and was “buried somewhere near the border on the Afghan side.”

A Pakistani security official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, had earlier dismissed rumours of Mullah Omar’s death as “speculation” designed to disrupt peace talks.

The earlier claims of his death, however, lacked the heft and detail of today’s confirmation from the Kabul authorities.

The White House said the reports of Mullah Omar’s death were credible and that the U.S. intelligence community is looking into them.
talThis undated photo is believed to show the rarely-photographed leader.Source: AP

Omar’s death could 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.

Taliban faultlines 

The Taliban in April published a descriptive biography of the “charismatic” supreme leader, in a surprise move apparently aimed at countering the creeping influence of the Islamic State group within their ranks.

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

The biography, posted on the Taliban’s official website to commemorate Omar’s 19th year as supreme leader, had described him as being actively involved in “jihadi activities”, trying to dispel speculation that he had died.

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

Afghanistan Zafar Hashemi, a deputy spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, speaks during a press conference in Kabul today. Source: Associated Press

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

Afghan officials sat down with Taliban cadres earlier this month in Murree, a tourist town in the hills north of the Pakistani capital Islamabad, for their first face-to-face talks aimed at ending the bloody insurgency.

They agreed to meet again in the coming weeks, drawing international praise, but many ground commanders openly questioned the legitimacy of the Taliban negotiators, exposing dangerous faultlines within the movement.

Afghan officials are set to meet Taliban militants later this week for a second round, pledging to press for a ceasefire.

The split within the Taliban between those for and against talks has been worsened by the emergence of a local branch of the Islamic State group, the Middle Eastern jihadist outfit that last year declared a “caliphate” across large areas of Iraq and Syria that it controls.

The Taliban warned IS recently against expanding in the region, but this has not stopped some fighters, inspired by the group’s success, defecting to swear allegiance to IS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi instead of the invisible Mullah Omar

© AFP, 2015 with reporting from Associated Press

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