Taliban leader Omar lived next to US Afghan base

This handout photograph taken in 1978 and obtained from the Afghan Taliban on October 12, 2015 shows the late Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar posing for a portrait when he was a student at a madrassa in Kandahar. (File/AFP)
Updated 11 March 2019
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Taliban leader Omar lived next to US Afghan base

  • The new biography says Omar was in fact living just three miles from a major US Forward Operating Base in his home province of Zabul
  • Omar’s Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001, and has waged an anti-government insurgency since then

ISLAMABAD: Taliban founder Mullah Omar lived within walking distance of US bases in Afghanistan for years, according to a new book that highlights embarrassing failures of American intelligence.
Washington believed the one-eyed, fugitive leader had fled to Pakistan, but the new biography says Omar was in fact living just three miles from a major US Forward Operating Base in his home province of Zabul before his death in 2013.
“Searching for an Enemy,” by Dutch journalist Bette Dam, reveals the Taliban chief lived as a virtual hermit, refusing visits from his family and filling notebooks with jottings in an imaginary language.
Dam spent more than five years researching the book and interviewed Jabbar Omari, Omar’s bodyguard who hid and protected him after the Taliban regime was overthrown.
According to the book, Omar listened to the BBC’s Pashto-language news broadcasts in the evenings, but even when he learned about the death of Al-Qaeda supremo Osama Bin Laden rarely commented on developments in the outside world.
Following the 9/11 attacks in 2001 which led to the fall of the Taliban, the US put a $10 million bounty on Omar and he went into hiding in a small compound in the regional capital Qalat, Dam writes.
The family living at the compound were not told of the identity of their mystery guest, but US forces twice almost found him.
At one point, a US patrol approached as Omar and Omari were in the courtyard. Alarmed, the two men ducked behind a wood pile, but the soldiers passed without entering.
A second time, US troops even searched the house but did not uncover the concealed entrance to his secret room. It was not clear if the search was the result of a routine patrol or a tip-off.
Omar decided to move when the US started building Forward Operating Base Lagman in 2004, just a few hundred meters from his hideout.
He later moved to a second building but soon afterwards the Pentagon constructed Forward Operating Base Wolverine — home to 1,000 US troops, and where American and British special forces were sometimes based — close by.
Despite his terror at being caught, he dared not move again, rarely even going outside and often hiding in tunnels when US planes flew over.
According to Dam, Omar would often only talk to his guard and cook, and used an old Nokia mobile phone, without a sim card, to record himself chanting verses from the Qur’an.
Omar’s Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001, and has waged an anti-government insurgency since then.
Omar, who delegated effective Taliban leadership after 2001, appears to have acted as more of a spiritual leader, and the militant movement kept his death in 2013 secret for two years.


Journey home begins for Christchurch’s foreign victims

The body of Ansi Alibava, who was killed during the New Zealand mosque attacks, is carried upon arrival at Cochin International Airport in Kochi on March 25, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 25 March 2019
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Journey home begins for Christchurch’s foreign victims

  • The bodies of foreigners killed by an Australian white supremacist gunman in the South Island city on March 15 are only now beginning to arrive back home

WELLINGTON: The bodies of two Christchurch shooting victims arrived in India as the repatriation process gets underway for foreign nationals killed in the mosque massacre that claimed 50 lives, officials said Monday.
The Indian High Commission in Wellington said the bodies of the two had arrived in their homeland and a third was expected later Monday.
The relatives of another two Indian victims opted to have their loved ones buried in New Zealand, a consulate spokesman said.
The bodies of foreigners killed by an Australian white supremacist gunman in the South Island city on March 15 are only now beginning to arrive back home after delays stemming from the police investigation into the massacre.
The victims, who came from across the Muslim world, were gathered for Friday prayers at two Christchurch mosques when the killing spree took place.
Brenton Tarrant, a 28-year-old motivated by the white extremist belief that Muslims were “invading” Western countries, was arrested within minutes of the massacre and has been charged with murder.
The bodies of the Indian victims are believed to be among the first to be repatriated.
“I’m not sure about the status of bodies from other nationalities but I can say we went through the process as quickly as possible,” a spokesman for the Indian High Commission in Wellington said.
“We completed the procedure within a couple of days of the bodies being released.”
The two repatriated Indian victims are Ansi Karippakulam Alibava, 23, a masters student from Kerala, and Ozair Kadir, 24, an aspiring commercial pilot from Hyderabad city.
The remains of Mahboob Khokhar, a 65-year-old retiree who was visiting his son in Christchurch when he was killed, are en route to India and should arrive about 10:00 p.m. (0300 Tuesday GMT).
The Indians buried in New Zealand are father and son Asif and Ramiz Vora, originally from Gujarat, who had celebrated the birth of Ramiz’s daughter just days before the attack.