The Taliban on Sunday revealed the final resting place of the movement’s founder, Mullah Omar, whose death and burial they kept secret for years.
Rumors surrounding Omar’s health and whereabouts abounded after the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001 by a US-led invasion, and they only admitted in April 2015 that he had died two years earlier.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP on Sunday that senior Taliban leaders attended a ceremony at his grave earlier in the day near Omarzo in Suri district of Taliban province. Zabul.
The Taliban returned to power in August last year, routing government forces as the US-led military backing the regime ended a 20-year occupation.
“Since many enemies were around and the country was occupied, to avoid damaging the tomb, it was kept secret,” Mujahid said.
“Only close family members knew the place,” he added.
Footage released by officials showed Taliban leaders gathered around a simple white brick grave, covered with what appears to be gravel and locked in a green metal cage.
“Now the decision has been made…there is no problem for people to visit the tomb,” Mujahid said.
Omar, who was around 55 when he died, founded the Taliban in 1993 as an antidote to the civil war that erupted after the decade-long Soviet occupation.
Under his leadership, the Taliban introduced an extremely austere version of Islamic rule, excluding women from public life and introducing harsh public punishments including executions and floggings.
Omar’s ceremony comes a day after provincial Taliban officials denied reports that the grave of resistance hero Ahmad Shah Massoud in the Panjshir Valley had been vandalized, an act Mujahid said would be ‘punished’ if it was true.
Massoud has a mixed heritage in the country, where he is hailed by ordinary Afghans for leading the resistance against the Soviet occupation, but hated by the Taliban, he also fought until his assassination in 2001 by al-Qaeda.
His grave is in an imposing granite and marble mausoleum overlooking the scenic Panjshir Valley, and guarded by Taliban fighters since they took over the country in August last year.
Local residents said a contingent of newly arrived fighters smashed the headstone, and a video of the desecrated grave – which could not be verified – was posted by local media and widely shared on social media. .
“It happened when the new forces entered Panjshir. The new forces from Helmand and Kandahar destroyed the tombstone of the national hero,” a resident told AFP.
Nasrullah Malakzada, head of information and culture in Panjshir province, denied that the tomb was damaged and released a video claiming to show it intact.
The clip, however, didn’t show the whole structure – especially the damaged part in the original video.
Malakzada declined requests from reporters to visit or photograph the tomb for themselves.
Mujahid told reporters that no one has the right to insult the dead.
“Previously, we punished those who committed such acts,” he said, adding that “this will also be investigated and necessary measures will be taken.”