Mullah Muhammad Omar, the leader of the fundamentalist Afghan Taliban movement, proved to be as enigmatic in death as he had been in life. When the Afghan government announced on Wednesday that he had died more than two years ago in a Pakistani hospital, he had not been seen in public since 2001, not long after the attacks of Sept. 11, carried out by a terrorist group to which he had given safe harbor.
A recluse whose lack of education led many to underestimate him, Mullah Omar cultivated the aura of a mystic and religious leader. He solidified his leadership of the Taliban in an elaborate ceremony at Kandahar’s holiest shrine in 1996. In full view of his supporters, he donned a venerated relic, the cloak of the Prophet Muhammad, as they proclaimed him Amir ul-Momineen, Leader of the Faithful, one of the highest religious titles in Islam.
There was nothing elusive about his command of the movement’s thousands of followers and fractious commanders. Through five turbulent years of Taliban rule in Afghanistan and more than a decade of guerrilla insurgency against NATO-led forces, Mullah Omar maintained his grip by means of cunning ruthlessness and the single-mindedness of a man who saw himself on a God-sent mission.
As the supreme religious figure in Afghanistan, he commanded allegiance from all Taliban and foreign fighters, including Osama bin Laden, the founder of Al Qaeda, who came back to live in eastern Afghanistan in 1996 shortly before the Taliban seized power in Kabul, the capital. Mullah Omar granted sanctuary to him and his followers as they plotted attacks against United States Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, against the American destroyer Cole and, most dramatically, against the United States mainland, in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
After the attacks he refused to hand over Bin Laden and led his country into war against the United States. Soon, he was forced to flee, overwhelmed by American bombing campaigns. He never appeared in public again, although there were reported sightings over the years: A family greeted him for prayers during Ramadan; a bodyguard attended a commanders’ meeting near the Pakistani town Quetta; his father-in-law met with his close aides.
Mullah Omar was widely reported to be living in or near Quetta, near the border with southern Afghanistan, and communicated with his followers through audio messages that were passed around. In later years, he moved to the teeming port city of Karachi.
Pakistani officials always denied that he was in Pakistan, but many admitted privately that he was probably under the protection of its intelligence service. For the last few years, those close to the Taliban and even foreign fighters allied to the movement began suggesting that he was dead, given the lack of any direct communication from him.
He was in his early 50s at his death. Born in southern Afghanistan, Mullah Omar was the son of a poor village cleric who died when he was small. He was raised by his uncle, also a mullah, and was educated at his mosque in Deh Wanarwarkh in Uruzgan Province and later at a religious seminary in the city of Kandahar, though he did not complete his studies.
Still a teenager when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, he joined the mujahedeen and fought in the resistance, gaining a reputation for bullheaded bravery. When injured in one eye by shrapnel, he famously tore out the eye and continued fighting. He was among those religious students, or “Taliban,” known for their strict observance of Shariah law and fearless fanaticism.
After the Russian withdrawal in 1989, and the fall of the Communist government in 1992, Afghanistan was sliding into civil war as armed factions fought for power. Mullah Omar was working as a laborer and continuing his studies with a local mullah in 1994 when he was selected to assist the feared judge, Maulavi Pasanai, who ran a Shariah court in Zangabad, outside Kandahar, in his campaign against militias that were plaguing the countryside.
Within weeks, Mullah Omar swept away the gangs preying on traffic on the main highways and seized power in Kandahar. He and his men went on to overpower other militias, killing some of their members — hanging one commander from the barrel of a tank — and disarming the rest. Soon there were popular tales of the valiant religious students mercilessly crushing warlords and criminal gangs. Many Afghans, weary of years of bloodshed and instability, welcomed the Taliban’s strong arm.
Then, in an extraordinary military feat, the Taliban swept north, seizing Kabul in 1996 and much of northern Afghanistan in the years that followed.
Aided by Pakistan, which provided the Taliban with substantial political and military assistance, the Taliban also welcomed thousands of Pakistani fighters and other foreigners, including members of Al Qaeda, who joined in the fight to establish the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, a fundamentalist, Islamic caliphate that harked back to the times of the Prophet Muhammad and the glory days of Islam.
Supporters described Afghanistan under the Taliban as a “pure Islamic state,” ruled by Shariah law, where clerics and military commanders enforced religious observance and draconian punishments — a forerunner of the now-rising Islamic State, formed much later in Syria and Iraq. To many Afghans, the Taliban had turned their country into a backward police state. While it brought security and ended corruption in some areas, for many the Taliban government represented the “security of the grave.”
The Taliban’s harsh treatment of women, who were banned from all public life, and the harsh suppression of minorities deprived the Taliban government of any formal international support. Only three countries — Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — recognized it.
By 2001 the Taliban were poised to conquer the last northern provinces of Afghanistan when, on Sept. 9, the group’s strongest opponent and leader of the resistance, Ahmed Shah Massoud, was killed by two Qaeda suicide bombers posing as journalists.
But the attacks of Sept. 11 two days later gave Mullah Omar little chance to carry out those plans, and when he refused to hand over Bin Laden, he took Afghanistan to war. His forces crumbled in just over two months of American bombing, and he fled to Pakistan, avoiding detection as he escaped on the back of a motorbike, never to surface publicly again.
Mullah Omar was married at least four times. He is survived by an unknown number of children, including a son, Mullah Muhammad Yaqoub, who recently graduated from a religious seminary in Karachi.
For those of a similar name, see Mohamed Omer (disambiguation).
ملا محمد عمر
|Mullah Omar in this ID photo in 1990 or 1993.|
Only known confirmed photo of Omar.
|Head of the Supreme Council of Afghanistan|
27 September 1996 – 13 November 2001
|Prime Minister||Mohammad Rabbani|
Abdul Kabir (acting)
|Preceded by||Burhanuddin Rabbani(President)|
|Succeeded by||Burhanuddin Rabbani(President)|
Chah-i-Hammat, Kandahar Province, Kingdom of Afghanistan
(in present day Kandahar Provinceor Uruzgan Province, Afghanistan)
|Died||23 April 2013 (aged 50–63)|
|Alma mater||Darul Uloom Haqqania|
|Religion||Sunni Islam (Deobandi)|
|Allegiance|| Mujahideen (1983–91)|
|Years of service||1983–91|
• Battle of Arghandab
Afghan Civil War
• Battle of Jalalabad
Mullah Mohammed Omar Mujahid (Pashto: ملا محمد عمر مجاهد, Mullā Muḥammad ‘Umar Mujáhid; c. 1950–1962 – 23 April 2013), often simply called Mullah Omar, was the supreme commander and the spiritual leader of the Taliban. He was Afghanistan's 11th head of state from 1996 to late 2001, under the official title "Head of the Supreme Council". He died in 2013 of tuberculosis, although this was not confirmed until 2015.
Mullah Omar was wanted by the United States Department of State's Rewards for Justice program after October 2001 for sheltering Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaedamilitants in the years prior to the September 11 attacks. He was believed to be directing the Taliban insurgency against the United States armed forces-ledInternational Security Assistance Force and the government of Afghanistan.
Despite his political rank and his high status on the Rewards for Justice most wanted list, not much was publicly known about him. Only two known photos exist of him, neither of them official, and a picture used in 2002 by many media outlets has since been established to be someone other than him. The authenticity of the existing images is debated. Apart from the fact that he had one eye, accounts of his physical appearance state that Omar was very tall, at around 6 ft 6 in (1.98 m).Mullah Omar was described as shy and non-talkative with foreigners.
During his tenure as Emir of Afghanistan, Omar seldom left the city of Kandahar and rarely met with outsiders, instead relying on Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil for the majority of diplomatic necessities.
It was reported on 29 July 2015, that he had died in 2013. These reports were confirmed by the National Directorate of Security and the Taliban the following day.
According to most sources, Omar was born sometime between 1950 and 1962 in a village in Kandahar Province, Kingdom of Afghanistan (in present-day Kandahar Province or Uruzgan Province). Some suggest his birth year as 1950 or 1953, or as late as around 1966. According to "a surprise biography" published by the Taliban in April 2015, he was born in 1960.
His exact place of birth is also uncertain; one possibility is a village called Nodeh near the city of Kandahar. Matinuddin writes that he was born in 1961 in Nodeh village, Panjwai District, Kandahar Province. Others say Omar was born in a village of the same name in Uruzgan Province. In Omar's entry in the UNSC's Taliban Sanctions List, "Nodeh village, Deh Rahwod District, Uruzgan Province" is given as a possible birthplace. Other reports say Omar was born in 1960 in Noori village near Kandahar. 'Noori village, Maiwand District, Kandahar Province' is a second location suggested in Omar's entry in the Sanctions List. According to a biography of Mullah Omar published online by the Taliban in April 2015, he was born in 1960 in the village of Chah-i-Himmat, in Khakrez District, Kandahar Province. It has also been mentioned that Sangasar was his home village. Better established than Omar's place of birth is that his childhood home was in Deh Rahwod District, Uruzgan Province, having moved to a village there with his uncle after the death of his father (though some identify the district as Omar's birthplace).
An ethnic Pashtun, he was born in conservative rural Afghanistan to a poor landless family of the Hotak tribe, which is part of the larger Ghilzai branch. According toHamid Karzai, "Omar's father was a local religious leader, but the family was poor and had absolutely no political links in Kandahar or Kabul. They were essentially lower middle class Afghans and were definitely not members of the elite." His father Mawlawi Ghulam Nabi Akhund died when Omar was young. According to Omar's own words he was 3 years old when his father died, and thereafter he was raised by his uncles. One of his uncles married Omar's mother, and the family moved to a village in the poor Deh Rawod District, where the uncle was a religious teacher. It is reported that they lived in the village of Dehwanawark, close to the town of Deh Rahwod.
After the 1978 Saur Revolution in Afghanistan, Omar went to Karachi, Pakistan, in 1979 "to study at the Jamia Binoria Dar-ul-Aloom, the city's premier seminary for orthodox Sunni Muslims." After the Soviet invasion, the family moved to Tarinkot in Urozgan province. Young Mohammed was left to fend for his family. Unemployed, Omar moved to Singesar village in Kandahar province, and became the mullah, where he established a madrassa in a mud hut. He returned to Afghanistan in 1982 to fight with Hizb-e-Islami party, one of seven such parties training across the Afghan/Pakistan borders in Peshawar province.
Omar fought as a rebel soldier with the anti-Soviet Mujahideen under the command of Nek Mohammad of the Hizb-e-Islami Khalis, but did not fight against the communist regime of Najibullah regime between 1989 and 1992. It was reported that he was thin, but tall and strongly built, and "a crack marksman who had destroyed many Soviet tanks during the Afghan War."
Omar was wounded four times. Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef claims to have been present when exploding shrapnel destroyed one of Omar's eyes during a battle in Sangsar, Panjwaye District shortly before the 1987Battle of Arghandab. Other sources place this event in 1986 or in the 1989 Battle of Jalalabad. It was reported among the atrocities young girls and boys were being taken and raped by the commanders. By 1993, the mujaheddin from Urozgan province had resolved to fight against the oppressive regime, and joined with other groups to call themselves Taliban (translated as "Students of Islam").
Unlike many Afghan mujaheddin, Omar spoke Arabic. He was devoted to the lectures of Sheikh Abdullah Azzam, and took a job teaching in a madrassa in Quetta, Pakistan. He later moved to a mosque inKarachi, Pakistan, where he led prayers, and later met with Osama bin Laden for the first time.
Forming the Taliban
Following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989 and the collapse of Najibullah's regime in 1992, the country fell into chaos as various mujahideen factions fought for control. Mullah Omar went back to the madrassa at Singesar, although when he returned to religious teaching is unclear. According to one legend, in 1994, he had a dream in which a woman told him: "We need your help; you must rise. You must end the chaos. Allah will help you." Mullah Omar started his movement with less than 50 armed madrassah students, known simply as the Taliban (Pashtun for 'students'). His recruits came from madrassas in Afghanistan and from the Afghan refugee camps across the border in Pakistan. They fought against the rampant corruption that had emerged in the civil war period and were initially welcomed by Afghans weary ofwarlord rule. Apparently, Omar became sickened by the abusive raping of children by warlords and turned against their authority in the mountainous country of Afghanistan from 1994 onwards. A unit of 30 Talibs under Omar's command attacked the village camp and freed the girls.
The practice of bacha bazi by warlords was one of the key factors in Mullah Omar mobilizing the Taliban. Reportedly, in early 1994, Omar led 30 men armed with 16 rifles to free two young girls who had been kidnapped and raped by a warlord, hanging him from a tank gun barrel. Another instance arose when in 1994, a few months before the Taliban took control of Kandahar, two militia commanders confronted each other over a young boy whom they both wanted to sodomize. In the ensuing fight, Omar’s group freed the boy; appeals soon flooded in for Omar to intercede in other disputes. His movement gained momentum through the year, and he quickly gathered recruits from Islamic schools totaling 12,000 by the year's end, with some Pakistani volunteers. By November 1994, Mullah Omar's movement managed to capture the whole of the Kandahar Province and then captured Herat in September 1995. Although some accounts estimated that by Spring 1995 he had already taken 12 of the 31 provinces in Afghanistan.
Leader of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan
On 4 April 1996, supporters of Mullah Omar bestowed on him the title Amir al-Mu'minin (أمير المؤمنين, "Commander of the Faithful"), after he donned a cloak alleged to be that of Muhammad that was locked in a series of chests, held inside the Mosque of the Cloak of the Prophet Mohammed in the city of Kandahar. Legend decreed that whoever could retrieve the cloak from the chest would be the great Leader of the Muslims, or "Amir al-Mu'minin".
In September 1996, Kabul fell to Mullah Omar and his followers. The civil war continued in the northeast corner of the country, near Tajikistan. The nation was named theIslamic Emirate of Afghanistan in October 1997 and was recognized by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Described as a "reclusive, pious and frugal" leader, Omar very seldom left his residence in the city of Kandahar, and visited Kabul only twice between 1996 to 2001 during his tenure as ruler of Afghanistan. In November 2001 during a radio interview with the BBC, Omar stated: "All Taliban are moderate. There are two things: extremism ['ifraat', or doing something to excess] and conservatism ['tafreet', or doing something insufficiently]. So in that sense, we are all moderates – taking the middle path."
According to Pakistani journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai, Mullah Omar stated in the late 1990s that "We have told Osama not to use Afghan soil to carry out political activities as it creates unnecessary confusion about Taliban objectives."
Despite receiving a personal invitation from Saudi Arabia’s ruler at the time, King Fahd, Omar did not make the pilgrimage to Mecca.
In March 2001, the Buddhas of Bamiyan were destroyed by the Taliban under an edict issued from Mullah Omar, stating: "all the statues around Afghanistan must be destroyed." This prompted an international outcry.
In a BBC's Pashto interview after the September 11 attacks in 2001, he said, "You (the BBC) and American puppet radios have created concern. But the current situation in Afghanistan is related to a bigger cause – that is the destruction of America.... This is not a matter of weapons. We are hopeful for God's help. The real matter is the extinction of America. And, God willing, it [America] will fall to the ground...."
After the U.S.-led War in Afghanistan began in early October 2001, Omar secretly fled to neighboring Pakistan in late 2002. According to sources, he was living in Karachi, Pakistan, where he worked as a potato trader. The United States offered a reward of US$10 million for information leading to his capture. In November 2001, he ordered Taliban troops to abandon Kabul and take to the mountains, noting, "defending the cities with front lines that can be targeted from the air will cause us terrible loss."
Claiming that the Americans had circulated "propaganda" that Mullah Omar had gone into hiding, Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil stated that he would like to "propose that prime minister Blair and president Bush take Kalashnikovs and come to a specified place where Omar will also appear to see who will run and who not." He stated that Omar was merely changing locations due to security reasons.
In the opening weeks of October 2001, Omar's house in Kandahar was bombed, killing his 10-year-old son and his uncle.
Mullah Omar continued to have the allegiance of prominent pro-Taliban military leaders in the region, including Jalaluddin Haqqani. The former foe Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's faction also reportedly allied with Omar and the Taliban. In April 2004, Omar was interviewed via phone by Pakistani journalist Mohammad Shehzad. During the interview, Omar claimed thatOsama Bin Laden was alive and well, and that his last contact with Bin Laden was months before the interview. Omar declared that the Taliban were "hunting Americans like pigs."
A captured Taliban spokesman, Muhammad Hanif, told Afghan authorities in January 2007, that Omar was being protected by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in Quetta, Pakistan.
In the years following the allied invasion numerous statements were released that were identified as coming from Omar. In June 2006, a statement regarding the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq was released hailing al-Zarqawi as a martyr and claimed that the resistance movements in Afghanistan and Iraq "will not be weakened". Then in December 2006 Omar reportedly issued a statement expressing confidence that foreign forces will be driven out of Afghanistan.
In January 2007, it was reported that Omar made his "first exchange with a journalist since going into hiding" in 2001 with Muhammad Hanif via email and courier. In it he promised "more Afghan War", and said the over one hundred suicide bomb attacks in Afghanistan in the last year had been carried out by bombers acting on religious orders from the Taliban – "the mujahedeen do not take any action without a fatwa." In April 2007, Omar issued another statement through an intermediary encouraging more suicide attacks.
In November 2009, The Washington Times claimed that Omar, assisted by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), had moved back to Karachi in October. In January 2010, Brigadier Amir Sultan Tarar, a retired officer with ISI who previously trained Omar, said that he was ready to break with his al-Qaida allies in order to make peace in Afghanistan: "The moment he gets control the first target will be the al-Qaida people."
In January 2011, The Washington Post, citing a report from the Eclipse Group, a privately operated intelligence network that may be contracted by the CIA, stated that Omar had suffered a heart attack on 7 January 2011. According to the report, Pakistan's ISI rushed Omar to a hospital near Karachi where he was operated on, treated, and then released several days later. Pakistan's Ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, stated that the report "had no basis whatsoever".
On 23 May 2011, TOLO News in Afghanistan quoted unnamed sources saying Omar had been killed by ISI two days earlier. These reports remained unconfirmed. A spokesman for the militant group said shortly after the news came out. "Reports regarding the killing of Amir-ul-Moemineen (Omar) are false. He is safe and sound and is not in Pakistan but Afghanistan." On 20 July 2011, phone text messages from accounts used by Taliban spokesmen Zabihullah Mujahid and Qari Mohammad Yousuf announced Omar's death. Mujahid and Yousuf, however, quickly denied sending the messages, claimed that their mobile phones, websites, and e-mail accounts had been hacked, and they swore revenge on the telephone network providers.
In 2012, it was revealed that an individual claiming to be Omar sent a letter to President Barack Obama in 2011, expressing slight interest in peace talks.
On 31 May 2014, in return for the release of American prisoner of war Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, five senior Afghan detainees were released from the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba. A person purporting to be Omar reportedly hailed their release.
On 23 September 2014, Omar's aide, Abdul Rahman Nika, was killed by Afghan special forces. According to Afghan intelligence service spokesman Abdul Nasheed Sediqi, Nika was involved in most of the Taliban's attacks in western Afghanistan, including the kidnapping of three Indian engineers, who were later rescued.
Post-NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan
In December 2014, acting Afghan intelligence chief Rahmatullah Nabil stated he was not sure "whether Omar is alive or dead". This came amid reports after the Afghan intelligence agency revealed fracturing within the Taliban movement, speculating that a leadership struggle had ensued and therefore that Mullah Omar had died. Later reports from Afghan intelligence in December revealed that Mullah Omar has been hiding in the Pakistani city of Karachi. An anonymous European intelligence official who confirmed this has stated that "there's a consensus among all three branches of the Afghan security forces that Mullah Omar is alive. Not only do they think he's alive, they say they have a good understanding of where exactly he is in Karachi."
In April 2015, a man claiming to be Mullah Omar issued a fatwa declaring pledges of allegiance to the Islamic State group as forbidden in Islamic law. The man described ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as a "fake caliph", and said "Baghdadi just wanted to dominate what has so far been achieved by the real jihadists of Islam after three decades of jihad. A pledge of allegiance to him is 'haram'."
On 29 July 2015, the Afghan government announced that Omar had died in April 2013. It was confirmed by a senior Taliban member that Omar's death was kept a secret for two years. It is alleged that Omar was "buried somewhere near the border on the Afghan side". The place of Omar's death is disputed; according to Afghan government sources, he died in Karachi, Pakistan. A former Taliban minister stated that Karachi was "Omar’s natural destination because he had lived there for quite some time and was as familiar with the city as any other resident." However, this claim has been dismissed by other Taliban members, stating that his death occurred in Afghanistan after his health condition had deteriorated due to "sickness", and that "not for a single day did he go to Pakistan". According to an official statement by Pakistani defence minister Khawaja Asif, "Mullah Omar neither died nor was buried in Pakistan and his sons’ statements are on record to support this. Whether he died now or two years ago is another controversy which we do not wish to be a part of. He was neither in Karachi nor in Quetta." Initially, some Taliban members denied that he had died; other sources considered the report to be speculative, designed to destabilise peace negotiations in Pakistan between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Abdul Hassib Seddiqi, the spokesman for Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security (NDS), said: "We confirm officially that he is dead."
The following day, the Taliban confirmed the death of Omar; sources close to the Taliban leadership said his deputy, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, would replace him, although with the lesser title of Supreme Leader. Omar's son, Mohammad Yaqoob was opposed to Mansour's ascension as leader.
The Taliban splinter group Fidai Mahaz claimed Omar did not die of natural causes but was instead assassinated in a coup led by Mullah Akhtar Mansour and Mullah Gul Agha. The Taliban commander Mullah Mansoor Dadullah, brother of former senior commander Mullah Dadullah confirmed that Omar had been assassinated. The leader of Fidai Mahaz, Mullah Najibullah, revealed that due to Omar's kidney disease, he needed medicine. According to Najibullah, Mansour poisoned the medicine, damaging Omar's liver and causing him to grow weaker. When Omar summoned Mansour and other members of Omar's inner circle to hear his will, they discovered that Mansour was not to assume leadership of the Taliban. It was due to Mansour allegedly orchestrating "dishonourable deals". When Mansour pressed Omar to name him as his successor, Omar refused. Mansour then shot and killed Omar. Najibullah claimed Omar died at a southern Afghanistan hide-out in Zabul Province in the afternoon on April 23, 2013.