July 20 (Bloomberg) -- Afghanistan’s Taliban denied that their leader Mullah Mohammed Omar had died, saying phone and website messages announcing his death were the result of hacking.
Omar is “organizing operations throughout Afghanistan,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said by telephone today from an undisclosed location after a text message was sent claiming to be from him announcing the death. A Taliban website saying Omar died of a heart illness on July 15 was hacked, he said. Another spokesman for the Islamic militant movement, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, also denied the reports.
It was the second such report in two months. Afganistan’s Tolo television network on May 23 cited unidentified domestic intelligence sources as saying Omar had died, three weeks after a U.S. commando raid killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
While there is no way to prove who is behind the reports, Afghan and U.S. intelligence agencies have shut down Taliban websites before in an effort to disrupt their activities, said Haroun Mir director of the Kabul-based Afghanistan Center for Research and Policy Studies.
“There are a lot of intelligence agencies working in our country,” Mir said. “Whoever did the hacking will benefit by this.”
Mullah Omar’s Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until it was forced from power by U.S.-led forces following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The decision to invade was sparked by Omar’s refusal to hand over bin Laden, who was based in the country. In the 10 years of fighting that followed, 2,603 coalition soldiers have been killed, 1,672 of them Americans, according to the iCasualties website which tracks the war.
A spokesman for Afghanistan’s spy agency, Lotfullah Mashal, said officials had begun an investigation into the conflicting statements. Courtney Beale, an acting spokeswoman at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, said in a text message that it had “no independent confirmation” of Omar’s death.
President Barack Obama said last month that the U.S. will withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan before the end of this year and an additional 23,000 by September 2012. Other nations have announced their own troop reduction plans. The U.S.-led coalition force in Afghanistan this week began transferring security in seven areas to Afghan forces.
Underscoring the challenges as U.S. troops leave, Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s younger half brother was shot dead at his home in the southern province of Kandahar July 12. That killing was followed days later by the shooting to death of a senior Karzai aide in Kabul.
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