Taliban Supreme Leader Mullah Omar Dead, Afghan Officials Confirm

The Supreme Leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Omar, died two years ago in a Pakistan hospital, a spokesman for Afghanistan's security services confirmed on Wednesday.

Abdul Hassib Seddiqi told the BBC's Afghan Service that the terror group's chief had died in hospital due to health problems.

The Afghan government had earlier announced that it was investigating reports that Omar had died after Afghan government and intelligence sources made the claims that Omar had died two to three years ago.

There have been numerous reports of Mullah Omar's death previously but they were never confirmed by sections of the Afghan leadership.

The Taliban is yet to comment on the claims and Newsweek could not independently verify the reports. A Taliban spokesman told the BBC that it is preparing a statement to be issued shortly.

Pakistan's government is also yet to comment on the claim that Omar died in a Pakistani hospital. Islamabad has consistently denied that the Taliban leader had been present in country.

While the exact health problems that caused Omar's death have yet to be confirmed, a former Afghan Taliban minister and member of the country's central leadership council told Pakistan's Express Tribune on condition of anonymity that elusive leader died from tuberculosis.

"Mullah Omar died two years and four months ago owing to tuberculosis. He has been buried on Afghan side of the border," the former minister said. "Mullah Omar's son had identified the body of his father."

The US State Department had issued a $10 million bounty on Omar's head because of his support of Al-Qaeda's former leader Osama bin Laden. His close ties to the 9/11 mastermind, who was killed in a 2011 US special forces raid in Pakistan, sparked Washington's mission to oust the Taliban from Afghanistan in 2001. Despite one of the world's largest manhunts, Omar managed to survive the US operation.

Omar and Bin Laden were close allies, with the Saudi leader of Al-Qaeda helping to finance the Taliban's rise to power in Afghanistan. It is reported that the pair spoke by satellite phone daily and even took fishing trips together.

Earlier this month, the Afghan Taliban released an alleged statement from Omar during the Muslim holy celebration of Eid al-Fitr, lauding peace talks between the group and the Afghan government. A second round of talks between representatives of the two parties are set to continue on Friday.

Emily Winterbotham, research fellow of international security studies at RUSI, says that the timing of the announcement from Afghan government sources could be an attempt to hamper the peace process between the terror group and the government while the Taliban's search for a successor could also widen divisions within the group.

"The timing of this revelation looks like an attempt to scupper the tentative progress that has been made in the peace process," she says. "It will be interesting to see if this announcement will have implications for a second round of peace talks, which were likely to be held in Pakistan this week."

"If this announcement leads to a process where someone is going to take over from Omar and be declared a new Supreme Leader, that in itself is going to be a divisive process," she adds. "I would not expect to see all factions of the Taliban being able to agree on that with any sort of speed."

Omar fought against Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s, where he sustained a serious injury to his right eye from shrapnel. He continued to move up the ranks of the Taliban, becoming their Supreme Leader in 1996 when he led the group to defeat Afghan militias for control of the country.

Omar has not been seen in public since the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and ousting of the Taliban government. He was known for being reclusive, never meeting with a foreign journalist and leaving his communications to Wakil Ahmad Mutawakkil, his foreign minister.

In a biography published by the Taliban earlier this year, the group claimed that Omar did not own a home nor a foreign bank account. It claimed that its leader was still alive.