Taliban supreme leader makes first public appearance

Mr Haibatullah Akhundzada, who has been a reclusive figure, addressed supporters at a madrasah in Kandahar on Oct 30, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

KABUL (AFP) - Taliban supreme leader Haibatullah Akhundzada has made his first ever public appearance, officials announced on Sunday (Oct 31), after he addressed supporters in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.

Mr Akhundzada has been the spiritual chief of the Islamist movement since 2016 but has remained a reclusive figure, even after his group seized power in Afghanistan in August.

His low profile has fed speculation about his role in the new Taliban government - and even rumours of his death.

On Saturday, he visited the Darul Uloom Hakimah madrasah to "speak to his brave soldiers and disciples", according to Taliban officials.

There was tight security at the event and no photographs or video have emerged, but a 10-minute audio recording was shared by Taliban social media accounts.

Mr Akhundzada - referred to as "Amirul Momineen" or commander of the faithful - gave a religious message.

The speech did not touch on politics, but sought God's blessing for the Taliban leadership.

He prayed for the Taliban martyrs, wounded fighters and the success of the Islamic Emirate's officials in this "big test".

Mr Akhundzada was appointed leader of the Taliban in a swift transition of power after a 2016 United States drone strike killed his predecessor Mullah Akhtar Mansour.

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