KABUL, Afghanistan, (AP) – The Taliban denied a report in the Afghan press that the insurgent group’s leader had been killed in neighboring Pakistan, saying Monday that Mullah Mohammad Omar is alive and in Afghanistan.
“This is absolutely wrong. It’s only propaganda and we completely deny these rumors,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told The Associated Press in a phone call. “He is inside Afghanistan and he is busy directing military operations with his commanders.”
There has been much speculation that the U.S. might ramp up efforts to kill or capture the reclusive, one-eyed Taliban leader after the successful strike against Osama bin Laden. President Barack Obama has said he would order another covert military raid if it was necessary to stop terrorist attacks.
Most of those with knowledge of the Taliban organization say Omar is hiding in southern Pakistan, around Quetta or Karachi.
Afghan news channel Tolo quoted an anonymous Afghan intelligence official as saying Omar had been shot dead in Pakistan while being moved from Quetta to North Waziristan with the help of former Pakistani intelligence chief Gen. Hamid Gul.
North Waziristan is a tribal area home to militants whose primary focus is attacking U.S. and NATO troops across the border in Afghanistan.
A Pakistani intelligence official said that there was no information to suggest the report of Omar’s death was true. He spoke anonymously because of the sensitivity of the subject.
Gul told the AP that the story was false.
“This is propaganda, sheer deception, disinformation,” Gul said. “I have never met him. I’ve never seen him. No contact whatsoever.”
Afghanistan’s leaders accuse Pakistan’s intelligence services of aiding Taliban and other insurgents fighting international and Afghan troops in the country, even as Islamabad battles the allied Pakistani Taliban at home.
Similar suspicions of collusion were raised that at least some Pakistani authorities knew where bin Laden was hiding.
A spokesman for the Afghan intelligence service said they had confirmed reports that Omar had been moved within Pakistan and that Gul was involved.
“The transfer happened two days ago. He was taken from Quetta to North Waziristan by Gen. Hamid Gul,” said Latifullah Mashal, a spokesman for the Afghan intelligence agency. “Since that transfer, our sources tell us that there has been no contact between Mullah Omar and the leadership of the Taliban.”
Mashal did not say if multiple days of silence was unusual and said he could not confirm the report of Omar’s death.
U.S. and NATO officials said they had heard the report from Tolo but had no information to confirm or deny it.
Obama told the BBC in an interview broadcast Sunday that he could not allow “active plans to come to fruition without us taking some action,” and would send troops again if a senior Taliban leader were found in Pakistan.
Pakistan is furious that that United States sent Navy SEALs to raid bin Laden’s Pakistan hideaway earlier this month without informing Pakistani authorities in advance.
But there are also parallel efforts to get the Taliban leadership into negotiations with the Afghan government, making it unclear if such a strike would be in the interest of the American or Afghan governments.