KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Taliban spokesmen in Afghanistan denied Wednesday that the insurgent group’s leader Mullah Mohammed Omar had died, claiming that a phone message and a posting on the Internet were fake.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told The Associated Press that a text message sent to journalists on his behalf was the result of a phone hack.
“He is overseeing operations in the country,” he told the AP. He added that “outsiders must have hacked into Taliban phones and the website.” Mujahid blamed U.S. intelligence agencies, saying they were trying “to demoralize the Taliban.”
Rumors spread that Mullah Omar had died when the text message, allegedly sent from Mujahid, announced that the “Amir ul Mumineen,” or “commander of the Muslim faithful,” was dead. That title is reserved for the Taliban leader.
Afghan and coalition military officials also said they could not confirm the reports of his death.
Another Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, also denied by phone to the AP that Mullah Omar had died.
“Those agents who have been unsuccessful in Afghanistan are now trying to use these tactics to bring down the morale of the mujahedeen,” he said.
A message that Mujahid sent later from a different phone number again denied his death.
“The enemies of Islam have released news that esteemed Amir ul Mumineen is dead,” the second message from Mujahid said. “That is completely baseless. It is a lie. Amir ul Mumineen is alive and he is busy with his daily works and organizing the mujahedeen.”
Mullah Omar has led the decade-long insurgency against the U.S.-led military coalition and the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai. He ruled most of Afghanistan as leader of its Taliban government before the United States and its allies invaded on Oct. 7, 2001, in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.
The decision to invade was tied to Mullah Omar’s decision to shelter al-Qaida’s now deceased leader, Osama bin Laden. The invasion ended Mullah Omar’s nearly five-year rule of Afghanistan, a time when the Taliban government imposed a strict interpretation of Islamic law. Women were barred from being educated and forced to cover themselves. Men were not allowed to shave and adultery was punished by stoning people to death. His exact age is not known, but he is believed to be around 50.