Hackers' news of Mullah Omar's death greatly exaggerated

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The Independent Online

The Afghan Taliban claimed yesterday that their mobile phone, email accounts and a website had been hijacked to send false messages to the media that their supreme leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, had died.

The spiritual and political head of the insurgent movement is among the most-wanted men in the world, with a $10m US bounty on his head. It was not the first time he has been reported dead. "This is the work of American intelligence, and we will take revenge on the telephone network providers," said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.

A second spokesman, Qari Yousuf, said they would be investigating the hacking and considering changing the way news was disseminated, using websites more than short text messages.

The fake text messages came from phone numbers used by both spokesmen and said "spiritual leader Mullah Mohammad Omar Mujahid has died" and "May Allah bless his soul". Mr Yousuf said the hacking was an attempt at psychological warfare by Nato-led forces.

Pakistani author and Taliban expert Ahmed Rashid said there could be tactical incentives for Western forces in Afghanistan to spread rumours of Mullah Omar's death. "It could be the Americans or the CIA behind it to sow unrest and division and confusion, which it clearly has done." Nato's International Security Assistance Force declined to comment.

Anand Gopal, an analyst and reporter who has written extensively on the Taliban, said even if Omar had died it was unlikely his death would be confirmed so quickly. "Since so few people have access to Omar [maybe four or five, according to some estimates], there seems to be little incentive for the Taliban to publicise the death unless it was absolutely necessary," he said.

"It is also unusual that they would mention someone to succeed Omar in the statement. Normally these things would take time, and there would certainly be splits in the leadership over the succession."

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