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Mystery over Omar's whereabouts

Reports say Omar (pictured) is being held by an Afghan warlord
Reports say Omar (pictured) is being held by an Afghan warlord  

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Conflicting reports on the whereabouts of Taliban spiritual leader Mullah Mohammed Omar are circulating as opposition forces secure the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar.

Pashtun tribal leaders in the city told CNN that Omar was in Kandahar Friday, but by Saturday morning he was no longer in the city.

Forces allied to the United States on Saturday were mopping up in the southern city where the repressive regime of the Taliban began under Omar seven years ago.

Pentagon sources have yet to confirm any report on Omar's present position, saying only that the Taliban leader remains in the "general vicinity" of Kandahar.

But Hamid Karzai, new head of the Afghan interim government, was quoted as saying did not know where the Taliban leader was.

Earlier, Karzai said that Omar had expressed no remorse for the suffering he had brought to Afghanistan and so should be brought to trial to face "international justice".

Franks: We'll bring him to justice

In a Pentagon briefing, Gen. Tommy Franks says the military doesn't know where Mullah Mohammed Omar is. CNN's Bob Franken reports (December 7)

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PROFILE: Omar, the Taliban's reclusive leader 

Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, also said that exactly the U.S. didn't know where Omar is.

"I don't think that I would say Omar has vanished. I think we've said all along that -- and I think the president said that -- we'll either bring him to justice or bring justice to him," Franks said.

"I'm concerned until we are able to assure ourselves that there will be no loss and no escape of this Taliban leadership," he said.

The U.S. has demanded Omar be punished for sheltering Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born Islamic militant it blames for masterminding the September 11 attacks that killed nearly 4,000 people in the United States.

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With his forces in retreat, an attempt to broker a deal that would allow Omar to live with "dignity" in Kandahar has been dismissed, although anti-Taliban Afghan leaders are continuing to discuss an amnesty for rank and file followers innocent of terrorist activities.

Until this week, the reclusive Omar -- who lost an eye doing battle with the Soviet invaders in the 1980s -- had exhorted his troops to fight anti-Taliban forces to the death.

"I order you to completely obey your commanders and not to go hither and thither," Omar was quoted as telling his fighters over their wireless last month. "Any person who goes hither and thither is like a slaughtered chicken which falls and dies."

Word was law

His followers failed to respond in the affirmative in sufficient numbers to save his regime.

But Reuters news agency reports that among the faithful, Omar's word was law and acolytes are still making a last ditch attempt to salvage the rule of the man who led them first to power, then to ruin.

Omar's rise began with frustration at the internecine wars among the factions of the mujahedeen, or holy warriors, who had defeated the Russians then turned on one another in 1992.

The capital of Kabul fell to the Taliban on September 26, 1996. Five years later, battered by U.S. bombs, they left it again, prompting joy among repressed Afghans who had been forced to grow their beards or hide beneath all-concealing burqas.

Only a few fuzzy photographs exist of Omar -- the Taliban banned them along with television, music and "entertainments".


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