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The Secret Life Of Mullah Omar Revealed

Years without any video or audio recordings have led to growing speculation that Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar may be seriously ill, or dead.
Years without any video or audio recordings have led to growing speculation that Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar may be seriously ill, or dead.

Mullah Mohammad Omar has been leading the Afghan Taliban for nearly two decades, yet little is known about the man behind the militant group.

So it was a rare treat when the Taliban unexpectedly published a biography of Omar this week to mark his 19th year at the helm.

Published on a Taliban website on April 5 in four languages, the 5,000-word document gives a surprisingly detailed account of the reclusive leader's day-to-day activities and even details of his family and personal life.

It also seeks to clarify disputed facts about Omar -- who has not appeared in public since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 -- and to dispel rumors of his demise.

Here are some of the highlights:

Countering IS

Analysts say the timing of the publication suggests that the group is trying to counter the creeping influence of the Islamic State (IS) group within insurgent ranks.

The Taliban has reportedly seen defections to IS in recent months, with some militants expressing their disillusionment with Mullah Omar's silence in the face of competition.

The Taliban says the biography was published to prevent "false propaganda by a number of spurious writers, analysts, and some biased circles."

The Taliban has released written statements purportedly made by Mullah Omar. But years without any video or audio recordings have led to growing speculation that the Taliban leader may be seriously ill, or dead.

Dispelling Death Rumors

The biography states that Mullah Omar "is still the leader in the present hierarchy of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan," the name of country during Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001.

The document says that Mullah Omar "remains in touch with the day-to-day happenings of his country, as well as the outside world."

Despite being "regularly tracked by the enemy, no major change and disruption has been observed in the routine works of Mullah Mohammad Omar in following and organizing the jihadi activities as the leader of the Islamic Emirate," the document says. "He keenly follows and inspects the activities against the brutal infidel foreign invaders."

The withdrawn, remote figure has hardly ever been photographed. His whereabouts unknown, he is believed to be leading the Afghan Taliban insurgency from neighboring Pakistan.

The U.S. State Department -- which has a $10 million bounty on Omar's head -- describes him as a tall male with a shrapnel wound to the right eye.

'Charismatic Personality'

In a section on his "unique and charismatic personality," the biography says Mullah Omar is tranquil and does not lose either his temper or his courage.

The biography says he is "affable and has a special sense of humor, as he never considers himself superior to his colleagues."

It also says that Mullah Omar does not own a house and has no bank account "either inside the country or outside nor anywhere else with any assumed name."

Personal Life

The biography aims to fill in some of the gaps about Mullah Omar's early years:

  • He was born in 1960 in the village of Chah-e Himmat, in the Khakrez district of Kandahar Province, the birthplace of the Taliban in the south of Afghanistan.
  • He is from the Tomzi clan of the Hotak tribe.
  • His father was Moulavi Ghulam Nabi, a "respected, erudite, and social figure" who died five years after Mullah Omar's birth. The family then moved to Uruzgan Province.
  • Mullah Omar attended a madrasah, or religious school, dispelling the long-held belief that he was illiterate.

After the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, he left school and became a jihadist "to discharge his religious obligation." He was injured four times and lost his right eye.

The document says Mullah Omar's weapon of choice is the shoulder-launched, antitank RPG-7, which he was said to be "proficient and an expert in."

He was given the title of "Amir-ul-Momineen," or leader of the faithful, in 1996, becoming supreme leader of the Taliban.

Post 9/11

Mullah Omar slams the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, in which the Taliban was toppled by "arrogant infidel powers of the world" who "could not tolerate Shari'a law," according to the document.

The document makes no mention of the Taliban's alliance with former Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Mullah Omar's backing for the terrorist leader sparked the invasion.

The biography claims that the Taliban controls 95 percent of Afghanistan. It says Mullah Omar continues to oversee a Taliban leadership council, judiciary, and nine executive commissions, as well as military commanders who operate in all 34 provinces of Afghanistan.

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    Frud Bezhan

    Frud Bezhan is the editor for Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan in the Central Newsroom at RFE/RL. Previously, he was a correspondent and reported from Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Turkey. Prior to joining RFE/RL in 2011, he worked as a freelance journalist in Afghanistan and contributed to several Australian newspapers, including The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.