Taliban supreme leader makes first public appearance since September, dispelling death rumours

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Taliban supreme leader Haibatullah Akhundzada made a rare appearance in Afghanistan on Saturday, dismissing rumours of his ill health and death.

Mr Akhundzada visited the Darul Uloom Hakimah madrassa in the southern city of Kandahar to speak to his supporters, news agency AFP reported.

His last public message was on 7 September, when he asked the newly-appointed Taliban government in Afghanistan to uphold sharia law. While the Taliban leader is claimed to have made public appearances since then, this was his first confirmed appearance.

Taliban social media handles posted a 10-minute-long audio recording, though there were no photographs from the visit.

In his speech at the madrassa, Mr Akhundzada prayed for Taliban martyrs and wounded fighters. He also reportedly spoke about seeking God’s blessings for the Taliban leadership but did not discuss politics.

He has retained the role of the supreme leader of the Taliban overseeing the group’s military, political and religious affairs since 2016, when US drone strikes killed his predecessor Mullah Akhtar Mansour.

Speculation over his health had been rife as Mr Akhundzada, also called the leader of the faithful or Amir ul Momi, has not been seen for several weeks, though he is known to keep a low profile. The group has a track record of covering up the deaths of senior figures, with the death of founder and first supreme leader Mullah Omar not acknowledged for a number of years.

The Taliban governor of Kandahar said that Mr Akhundzada conducts regular meetings to oversee that the situation in Afghanistan is under control.

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