He was perhaps anxious, in the panic of the Taliban retreat, to reassure his followers he was alive, but journalists on the sixth floor of the BBC's Bush House were none the less surprised when they heard Mullah Mohammed Omar on the line.
With Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar is the most sought-after individual in the so-called war against terrorism, and there he was on the end of the telephone, making a request to speak to the World Service Pashtu section.
The ensuing interview, in which the leader of the Taliban vowed to continue his fight against the Allies, was broadcast yesterday as all around him his fighters were retreating from the advance of the Northern Alliance.
There was nothing lucky about the BBC's scoop. The 12-strong Pashtu team had secured the words of the mullah twice before, but each time they were only tape recordings played down telephone lines by intermediaries. This time, the man himself was speaking.
The BBC asked the questions through a Taliban intermediary over a satellite phone. He passed them on to Mullah Omar through a hand-held radio and then attached the phone's receiver to the radio for his answers.
Dawood Azami, the producer who transcribed the latest Mullah Omar interview, said: "During the first week of the US bombing, we asked to interview him through his spokesman in Kandahar. We were told it was not possible. Then later, one of his people played a taped message from him down the phone."
That was the statement in which he denied Mr bin Laden had been involved in the attacks on America. He also vowed the Taliban would resist the US-led attacks and issued a decree that poppy production, to make heroin, remained a crime.
Three weeks later, again after requests from the Pashto section, a second tape was played down the phone. In that, he called for Muslims everywhere to protest against the US.
Aware that his messages were getting through, Mullah Omar decided to make his third statement to the BBC in person. The interview was carried out on Wednesday by another producer, Daud Junbish, an experienced journalist from Afghanistan, and resulted in the following exchange, which lasts four minutes and 52 seconds.
World Service interviewer: "What do you think of the current situation in Afghanistan?"
Mullah Omar: "You [the BBC] and American puppet radios have created concern. But the current situation in Afghanistan is related to a bigger cause – that is the destruction of America.
"And on the other hand, the screening of Taliban [for those who are or are not loyal] is also in process. We will see these things happen within a short while."
WS: "What do you mean by the destruction of America? Do you have a concrete plan to implement this?"
MO: "The plan is going ahead and, God willing, it is being implemented. But it is a huge task, which is beyond the will and comprehension of human beings. If God's help is with us, this will happen within a short period of time; keep in mind this prediction."
WS: "Osama bin Laden has reportedly threatened that he would use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons against America. Is your threat related to his?"
MO: "This is not a matter of weapons. We are hopeful for God's help. The real matter is the extinction of America. And, God willing, it [America] will fall to the ground."
WS: "During the past few days, you have lost control of several provinces. Are you hopeful that you will regain the lost territory?
MO: "We are hopeful that you will see the same kind of change that you saw [losing and regaining territory]."
WS: "What was the reason for the fast retreat? Why have your troops fled the cities? Is it because you suffered heavily from the US bombings or have your soldiers betrayed you?"
MO: "I told you that it is related to the larger task.
"The Taliban may have made some mistakes. Screening the Taliban [for loyalty] is a big task. And these problems may serve to cleanse [errant Taliban] of their sins. But there is a big change underway on the other side as well."
WS: "Can you tell us which provinces are under your control at the moment?"
MO: "We have four, five provinces. But it is not important how many provinces we have under our control.
"Once, we did not have a single province, and then the time came when we had all the provinces, which we have lost in a week. So the numbers of the provinces are not important."
WS: "As your participation in the future government has already been ruled out – if some of your forces decide to join the future government as [moderate] representatives of the Taliban, will you oppose it?"
MO: "There is no such thing in the Taliban. All Taliban are moderate. There are two things: extremism [ifraat, or doing something to excess] and conservatism [tafreet, or doing something insufficiently]. So in that sense, we are all moderates – taking the middle path.
"The struggle for a broad-based government has been going on for the past 20 years, but nothing came of it. We will not accept a government of wrong-doers. We prefer death than to be a part of an evil government.
"I tell you, keep this in mind. This is my prediction. You believe it or not – it's up to you. But we will have to wait and see."Reuse content