The Taliban on Wednesday said Mullah Omar was alive, accusing the Americans of hacking their phones after a text message sent to media from a spokesperson’s phone said the leader was dead.
In the message, Zabihullah Mujahid said: “Leadership council of IEA (Islamic emirate of Afghanistan) announces that Ameer-ul-Mumineen (Mullah Omar) has passed away. May mighty God bless him.”
He later denied sending the message, speaking by telephone.
“We strongly reject this claim. We are not aware of (any) such news. Americans have hacked our cell phones…and sent the message to the media,” said Mujahid.
A second spokesman, Qari Yosuf Ahmadi, also said phones had been hacked.
“This is a false message. The Westerners hacked into our cell phones and sent the message from our numbers to everyone. They want to deceive the Afghan people. The information is wrong. He is not dead,” said Ahmadi.
The deputy chief of intelligence for the southern city of Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban and an ongoing hotspot of insurgent activity, said the National Directorate for Security (NDS) had no reports of Omar’s death.
“Our intelligence sources as well as the government have not received any official confirmation of his death,” said Abdul Wahab Salih.
The reclusive Omar has not appeared in public since 2001.
In May, shortly after US special forces killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, the NDS said he had disappeared from his suspected hideout in Quetta.
An Afghan intelligence source had initially called a handful of reporters to tell them on condition of anonymity that Omar had been killed in Pakistan by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.
Journalist Ahmed Rashid said there could be tactical incentives for Western forces fighting in Afghanistan to spread rumours of Mullah Omar’s death. “It could be the Americans or the CIA behind it to sow unrest and division and confusion, which it clearly has done,” he told Reuters.
A spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) declined to comment.
Anand Gopal, an analyst and reporter said even if Omar had died it was unlikely their spokesmen would confirm his death so quickly. “Since so few people have access to Omar, there seems to be little incentive for the Taliban to publicise the death of their leader unless it was absolutely necessary,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 21st, 2011.