The Afghan Taliban on Monday rejected as “propaganda” unsourced media reports that their reclusive leader, Mullah Omar, had been killed in Pakistan, saying he was alive and in Afghanistan and vowing to continue their insurgency.
Security officials in Pakistan and diplomats, US military commanders and government officials in Afghanistan all cast doubt on reports that Omar, one of the most-wanted men in the world, had been killed while travelling between Quetta and North Waziristan.
“He is in Afghanistan safe and sound,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location. “We strongly reject these baseless allegations that Mullah Omar has been killed.”
“This is the propaganda by the enemy to weaken the morale of fighters.”
A spokesman for the Afghan intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), said its sources knew that Mullah Omar had been living in Quetta but had recently gone missing.
“We can confirm that he has been disappeared from his hideout in Quetta for the last four or five days,” NDS spokesman Lutfullah Mashal told a news conference.
“We can’t confirm if he is dead or alive.”
The heavily bearded, one-eyed Omar is rarely seen in public.
With a $10 million US bounty on his head, he fled with the rest of the Afghan Taliban leadership to Quetta after their government was toppled by US-backed Afghan forces in late 2001. They formed the “Quetta shura”.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban have already vowed to step up attacks as part of their long-awaited spring offensive they call “Operation Badar” — named for a decisive 7th century Muslim battle — and violence has spiked with a series of assaults on major targets in recent days.
They said the rumours of Mullah Omar’s death would not stop their fighters from continuing attacks.
“The enemy, with these kinds of rumours, is trying to halt the devastating waves of ‘Badar’ operations and is trying to create confusion amongst mujahideen, countrymen and faithful Muslims,” the Taliban said in an emailed statement.
“Our nation is an intelligent nation, which is aware of the tricks and lies of the devious and cunning enemy,” it said.
A senior Pakistani security official also said he could not confirm media reports, including on Afghanistan’s private TV station TOLO, that Omar had been killed.
“I am making queries,” the official said, requesting anonymity. “I can’t confirm it.”
According to one media report, former ISI chief Hamid Gul had been moving Omar from Quetta to North Waziristan when Omar was killed, although Gul denied the report.
“I am in Murree with my wife and I have no involvement in this, whether he is dead or alive,” Gul told Reuters by telephone.
“We don’t know if he is dead or not. My sense is he is alive.”
In Kabul, senior diplomats and US military officials also could not confirm the report and would not comment publicly. Some described the reports as “speculation”.