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The Taliban have denied that one of their top leaders has been killed in a shootout with rivals, following rumours about internal splits in the movement nearly a month after its lightning victory over the Western-backed government in Kabul.
Sulail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman, said Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, former head of the Taliban political office who was named deputy prime minister last week, issued a voice message rejecting claims he had been killed or injured in a clash.
“He says it is lies and totally baseless,” Shaheen said in a message on Twitter.
Baradar, who was last week named as a number two to Mullah Mohammed Hassan Akhundzada in the Taliban transitional government, has been missing from public view, leading some Afghans to question whether the senior leader was alive.
The Taliban’s official efforts to dispel the rumours appeared to have deepened the mystery of the missing Baradar.
The hardline Islamist group released photos of a handwritten note from one of Baradar’s deputies saying he was in Kandahar, then shared an audio message on Monday purporting to be from Baradar.
“There had been news in the media about my death,” Baradar said in the clip.
“Over the past few nights I have been away on trips. Wherever I am at the moment, we are all fine, all my brothers and friends.
“Media always publish fake propaganda. Therefore, reject bravely all those lies, and I 100 percent confirm to you there is no issue and we have no problem.”
Rumours of clashes with Haqqani network
The denials follow days of rumours that supporters of Baradar had clashed with those of Sirajuddin Haqqani, head of the Haqqani network that is based near the border with Pakistan and was blamed for some of the worst suicide attacks of the war.
The rumours follow speculation over possible rivalries between military commanders like Haqqani and leaders from the political office in Doha like Baradar, who led diplomatic efforts to reach a settlement with the United States.
The Taliban have repeatedly denied the speculation over internal divisions.
Baradar, once seen as the likely head of a Taliban government, had not been seen in public for some time and was not part of the ministerial delegation which met Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani in Kabul on Sunday.
Akhundzada, the movement’s supreme leader, has also not been seen in public since the Taliban seized Kabul on August 15, although he issued a public statement when the new government was formed last week.
Speculation over Taliban leaders has been fed by the circumstances surrounding the death of the movement’s founder, Mullah Omar, which was only made public in 2015 two years after it happened, setting off bitter recriminations among the leadership.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)