Taliban’s Supreme Leader Makes Rare Appearance After Infighting
(Bloomberg) -- The Taliban’s spiritual leader Haibatullah Akhundzada made his first public appearance since 2016 at a famous Islamic seminary over the weekend, praising the militant group for sweeping to power as the U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan.
Akhundzada hasn’t been seen in public since he became the supreme leader of the Taliban about five years ago. After the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August, there was widespread speculation of his death amid infighting within the group.
“May Allah reward the oppressed people of Afghanistan who fought the infidels and the oppressors for 20 years,” Akhundzada said in his address to a gathering at Darul Uloom Hakima, a religious school in Kandahar province. “Let’s pray for Allah that we successfully came out of this big test.”
Taliban spokesman Bilal Karimi confirmed the 10-minute audio recording and said Akhundzada was visiting the religious school on Saturday. The recording first emerged on several Taliban-linked social media accounts.
Akhundzada’s first public appearance comes nearly two months after concerns of a power struggle within the Taliban. In early September, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the group’s most public face who led peace talks with the U.S., was physically attacked by a leader of the U.S. terrorist-designated Haqqani Network over cabinet appointments.
Known as “Amirul Momineen,” or the commander of the faithful, Akhundzada has kept low profile for security purposes and serves more as a religious leader rather than a military figure. He succeeded Akhtar Mohammad Mansour who was killed in a U.S. drone strike five years ago in Pakistan near the Afghan border.
Other Taliban leaders have begun to appear in public after the government was formed in early September. Acting Defense Minister Mohammad Yaqoob Mujahed, who’s the son of one-eyed late Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar, recently addressed a gathering in Kandahar that was caught on video.
Another top Taliban figure and a leader of the Haqqani Network also appeared in public for the first time at a hotel in Kabul. Sirajjudin Haqqani was praising the suicide bombers his group had recruited but his face was blurred on photos taken at the event due to security reasons, Taliban officials said.
Afghanistan’s Prime Minister Mullah Mohammad Hassan, a lesser-known Taliban leader, has yet to address the country although he has led some cabinet meetings.
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