Taliban denies reports top leader killed in clash with rival

Group releases footage of Baradar, just named deputy PM, at meetings

KABUL • The Taliban has denied that one of its 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.

Spokesman Sulail Shaheen said Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, former head of the Taliban political office who was named deputy prime minister last week, has issued a voice message rejecting claims that he had been killed or injured in a clash.

"He says it is lies and totally baseless," Mr Shaheen said in a message on Twitter.

The Taliban also released video footage purportedly showing Mullah Baradar at meetings in the southern city of Kandahar. Reuters could not immediately verify the footage.

The denials follow days of rumours that supporters of Mr Baradar had clashed with those of Mr 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 Mr Haqqani and leaders from the political office in Doha like Mr Baradar, who led diplomatic efforts to reach a settlement with the US.

The Taliban has repeatedly denied the speculation over internal divisions.

Mr 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 team which met Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani in Kabul on Sunday.

The Taliban's supreme leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, has also not been seen in public since the group seized Kabul on Aug 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.

Meanwhile, the Taliban is investigating the accounts of former high-ranking Afghan government members to check for ill-gotten gains, officials said yesterday.

The investigation may lead to the freezing of assets and accounts of former civil servants, ministers and lawmakers, an official at Da Afghanistan Bank told AFP, asking not to be named.

A manager of a private bank confirmed that a team of "Taliban auditors" had been deployed to the organisation to check the accounts of selected former government officials.

Corruption was widespread and rampant under the administration of former president Ashraf Ghani, with tens of millions of dollars of aid money believed to have been siphoned out of the public purse.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 15, 2021, with the headline 'Taliban denies reports top leader killed in clash with rival'. Subscribe