Two months after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, group leader Haibatullah Akhundzada finally made his first public appearance, putting an end to rumors of his death.
Taliban sources told Reuters that Akhundzada visited the city’s Jamia Darul Aloom Hakimia religious school. The Taliban released a message saying that Akhundzada spoke with soldiers and disciples at the school, as well as an audio recording in which he prays for the group’s “martyrs” and for the Afghan people, who he says , fought against “infidels and oppression. “for 20 years.
Akhundzada’s public absence, with the last known photo of him from 2016 (when the Taliban posted it on Twitter), has led to speculation that he was dead. Reports of a split in the top leadership of the Taliban added to these doubts, as Akhundzada is ostensibly the most powerful person in the Taliban as its “Amirul Momineed” (Commander of the Faithful). However, he has yet to be officially declared an Emir of the New Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
He was made head of the Taliban after his predecessor Mansour Akhtar was killed by a US drone strike in 2016. Even then he was a low-key cleric, but defeated Sirajuddin Haqqani (then head of Taliban daily operations) and the Mullah Muhammad Yaqoub (son of the late founder of the Taliban, Mullah Omar) for the highest post.
A former judge of the group’s military court, Akhundzada was responsible for issuing most of the Taliban’s fatwas. We think he’s in his 50s.