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Fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Omar 'lived close to US bases' (Lead)

Monday - March 11, 2019 4:18 pm , Category : ART & LITERATURE
Amsterdam, March 11 (IANS) The Taliban's elusive one-eyed leader Mullah Omar lived within walking distance of US bases in Afghanistan for years and never hid in Pakistan as believed by Washington, a new book has claimed.
Dutch journalist Bette Dam's "The Secret Life of Mullah Omar" claims that American troops once even searched the house where Mullah Omar was hiding but failed to find a secret room built for him, the Guardian reported.
Dam, who has been reporting from Afghanistan since 2006, worked on the biography for more than five years and also interviewed Taliban members. It was published in Dutch in February and will be available in English soon.
According to the book, Mullah Omar never hid in Pakistan as believed by the US and instead lived in hiding three miles from a major US Forward Operating Base in his home province of Zabul in Afghanistan.
The BBC says that Dam managed to speak to Jabbar Omari, the man who effectively became Mullah Omar's bodyguard when he went into hiding after the ousting of the Taliban regime in 2001.
Omari hid the Taliban leader until his death from illness in 2013, the report quoted Dam as saying.
Soon after the fall of the Taliban, Mullah Omar -- on whose head the US placed a $10 million bounty after the 9/11 terror attacks -- hid in secret rooms in a house close to a base, the book said.
US forces even searched the accommodation on one occasion, but failed to find his hiding place, it added.
He later moved to a second building just three miles from another US base, home to about 1,000 troops, Dam said, adding that Mullah Omar regularly listened to the BBC's Pashto language service, but rarely commented on news of the outside world, even when he learned about the death of Osama Bin Laden.
The book says that Mullah Omar rarely went outside, except to take the sun in winter and would often hide in the irrigation tunnels as US planes flew over or troops passed by. "It was very dangerous for us there," Omari told Dam. "Sometimes there was only a table width between us and the foreign military."
The book said that as disillusionment grew over corruption within the Afghan government and civilian casualties caused by its US backers, Mullah Omar started to receive gifts of food and clothes from the villagers.
According to Dam, Omari said that Mullah Omar would go for days barely talking, his only interaction being with his guard and cook.
Mullah Omar had an old Nokia mobile phone, without a SIM card, that he used for recording himself chanting verses from the Quran, the book says.
Despite claims by the militants, Omar could not run the Taliban group from his hiding places. However, he is said to have approved the Taliban office in the Gulf state of Qatar, where US officials have been talking with Taliban leaders in a bid to end the long war in Afghanistan, the BBC said.
The book claims that Mullah Omar signed control of the Taliban over to his Defence Minister Mullah Obaidullah in December 2001.
Mullah Omar died on April 23, 2013, and was buried without a coffin in a featureless grave, Dam said.

--IANS soni/bg