EXCLUSIVE | Taliban Confirm Chief Hibatullah Akhundzada Died in Suicide Attack by Pak Forces Last Year

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After months of suspense, the Taliban on Friday confirmed the death of their elusive chief Hibatullah Akhundzada who has shepherded the group since 2016 saying that he died in a suicide attack in Pakistan last year, sources told CNN-News18.

Senior Taliban member Amir al-Mu’minin Sheikh said Hibatullah Akhundzada was ‘martyred’ in a suicide attack orchestrated by Pakistani forces last year, sources said.

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CNN-News18 had earlier reported about Akhundzada either being in the custody of Pakistani forces, or him being killed by them.

Hibatullah Akhundzada, the Taliban’s supreme leader, had often struck mystery, having never made a public appearance. According to Hollie Mc Kay of the New York Post, the photographs of him circulating on the internet appeared to be years old.

Furthermore, his inability to address the public had prompted a new surge of conspiracy theories, even inside Taliban circles, that he was no longer alive.

Since May 2016, when his predecessor, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, was murdered in a drone attack, Akhundzada had led the Taliban. He has the final say on all matters political, military, and religious, was said to have the power to make or break the already severely divided and bloodstained nation, according to McKay, reports mention.

Akhundzada, a low-profile conservative who was a deputy to Mansour, was seen by many as a natural choice for a movement that, despite battlefield gains, had been in disarray at the time of his succession. He was close to Mullah Omar, helping formulate religious decrees to justify the war, and like him was a native of Afghanistan’s Kandahar province, which was the center of the Taliban’s 1996-2001 regime.

As head of the Taliban courts, Akhundzada was brutal in his pronouncements and was conspicuously extremist in his views of women, according to Rahmatullah Nabil, a former head of Afghanistan’s secret service. Nabil described Akhundzada as a “small-minded man with a weak personality” who has never traveled abroad and so lacks “any familiarity with the bigger issues.”

With inputs from the Associated Press.

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