Taliban founder Mullah Omar is dead - Afghan authorities
Mullah Muhammad Omar, the reclusive cleric who founded Afghanistan's Taliban guerrilla movement and sheltered al-Qa'ida leaders as they plotted the September 11, 2001, attacks on the USA, has died. He was about 54.
He died in Pakistan in April 2013, the Afghan government confirmed yesterday in a statement. No other details were provided. The announcement comes amid reports that the Afghan government and Taliban representatives were preparing to meet for a second round of peace talks this week in Pakistan in an effort to end 14 years of conflict.
Omar was hardly ever seen in public and was rarely heard from. In an unusual step, the guerrilla movement in April published a biography of their leader and declared he was still in charge. It followed attempts by Isil to establish a presence in Afghanistan, and the defection of several Taliban factions straddling the border with Pakistan, citing the lack of an inspirational leader.
As the US has withdrawn most of its forces from Afghanistan, the Taliban has pushed to reassert control. In February, the United Nations said the group controlled just four of 373 districts nationwide, but 40pc of all towns and cities faced a significant threat from the insurgents. The group has seized more territory since.
The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until being ousted from power by the US for refusing to surrender al-Qa'ida leader Osama bin Laden after the killing of about 3,000 people in the worst terrorist attack on American soil.
While bin Laden sought to ignite conflict to drive US influence out of the Arab and Muslim worlds, Omar focused on turning Afghanistan into an Islamic state under his conservative interpretation of Shariah law.
Mohammad Umar Mujahed was born around 1959 in a village of southern Afghanistan, according to Pakistani researcher Ahmed Rashid, who has written three books on the Taliban movement.
After the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, Omar joined a guerrilla resistance faction and was injured several times, losing an eye to shrapnel, one of his former aides, Abdul Salam Zaeef, said in a 2010 interview in Kabul.
Following the Soviets' 1989 withdrawal and the collapse of the communist government they backed, Afghanistan fell into civil war, during which Omar and other local mullahs in the south formed a movement among students at religious schools. The movement was called Taliban, or "students," and it quickly drew support from Pakistan's military.
During their five years in power, the Taliban were recognised as Afghanistan's legitimate government only by Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
When, after the September 11 attacks, US air strikes and troops helped the Taliban's Afghan foes seize power, Omar fled into hiding.
In a statement, the Afghan authorities said: "The government of Afghanistan believes that the grounds for the Afghan peace talks are more paved now than before, and thus calls on all armed opposition groups to seize the opportunity and join the peace talks."