May 23 (Bloomberg) -- Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar has moved from his longtime refuge in or near the Pakistani city of Quetta, Afghanistan’s intelligence agency said, after local news reports that the cleric had been killed.
“He has disappeared from his area during the past four or five days,” agency spokesman Lutfullah Mashal told reporters in Kabul, referring to the region of Pakistan around Quetta where the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai has for years said Omar was sheltering. Mashal said his agency, the Afghan National Security Directorate, has tracked Omar through its contacts with senior members of the Taliban.
Mashal said the directorate cannot confirm a report by Kabul-based Tolo television that cited unnamed domestic intelligence sources as saying Omar had been killed. News media in Pakistan and India repeated Tolo’s account, which came three weeks after a U.S. commando raid killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
Pakistan has long denied assertions by Afghan and U.S. officials that Omar has sheltered, like bin Laden, in the country. Before Mashal’s press conference, Pakistan’s military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said in a text message that he hadn’t seen any information to support the reports of Omar’s death.
Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters in Karachi there was no truth in the reports of Omar’s killing. The allied Taliban movements in Afghanistan and Pakistan denied that Omar had been killed.
“I strongly reject the reports on the killing of our leader,” Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a phone interview from an undisclosed location. “Mullah Omar is alive.” Pakistani Taliban spokesman Sajjad Mohmand said the same by phone.
Unlike bin Laden, Omar is little known as a public figure. He is a rural village cleric from southern Afghanistan who formed the Taliban as a movement of religious students amid the civil war that racked the country following the Soviet occupation of the 1980s.
While Omar served as Afghanistan’s head of state during the Taliban regime that ruled from 1996 to 2001 and sheltered bin Laden, he seldom left his home in the southern city of Kandahar. He has been in hiding since the Taliban’s overthrow in 2001.
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