Sat, Jul 10, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Taliban: hard to find, but not to phone

REUTERS , SPIN BOLDAK, AFGHANISTAN

A captured member of the Afghan Taliban has contacted the movement's leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, a senior official said yesterday, the first indication in months that the one-eyed fugitive is still alive.

Afghanistan's southern security chief, Abdullah Laghmani, said Mullah Mujahid, whom he described as Omar's former bodyguard, was captured about 80km north of Kandahar city this week.

"Last Monday, Mujahid spoke to Mullah Omar in our presence," Laghmani said. "But since then, when we tried to contact him on this number they disconnected it. Mullah Omar is alive."

Omar is among the militants most wanted by Afghan and US forces, and is believed to be actively involved in coordinating an insurgency against foreign and local troops in Afghanistan that has claimed hundreds of lives this year.

He has been on the run since the Taliban fled Kabul in November, 2001, and his whereabouts remain a mystery.

Laghmani said Mujahid also spoke to former Taliban defense minister Mullah Obaidullah, who is also on the run.

But a spokesman and a commander for the Taliban, who have vowed to disrupt presidential elections planned for mid-October, denied Omar and Obaidullah had been contacted.

Mujahid used to be close to Omar, but not since the Taliban were ousted in a US-led war in late 2001, he said.

"It's wrong to suggest that the satellite phone belonged to Mullah Omar or anybody has spoken to him," said spokesman Latif Hakimi.

Omar was supreme leader of the Taliban when the movement allowed the al Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden to establish training camps in Afghanistan.

Omar refused to hand over the Saudi-born dissident after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the US by bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

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