The Taliban on Monday scrambled to deny unconfirmed reports that its spiritual leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, is dead.
“He is in Afghanistan safe and sound,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters by telephone. "This is the propaganda by the enemy to weaken the morale of fighters."
Speculation about Omar’s death began earlier in the day after Afghanistan’s main intelligence service told reporters that Omar had disappeared in recent days from his alleged Pakistani hideout and had not been seen or heard from since.
“Our sources and senior Taliban members confirm that they can’t contact him,” said Lutfullah Mashal, a spokesman for Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security. “We can’t confirm he is dead or alive.”
Unnamed Afghan officials then went a step farther, telling several media outlets off the record that they believed Omar had been killed several days ago while being moved to a new location within Pakistan. The information—which was first reported by an Afghan television station—was unable to be confirmed by independent channels and, according to Reuters, Pakistani and U.S. officials all quietly cast doubt on the report.
The New York Times spoke with the man reported to have been tasked with transporting Omar to his new location, former Pakistani intelligence chief Hamid Gul, but he laughed off the reports and called them completely baseless.
“Was I killed, too?” Gul told the Times by telephone from Pakistan. “Am I speaking to you from heaven?”