Edition: U.S. | Arabic | Set Pref
Thursday, September 07, 2006
Will the real Mullah Omar please stand up?
I'm sitting in my office staring at the grainy images of a mysterious man on the U.S. State Department's "Rewards for Justice" Web site. At this moment he may be hiding in a cave along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Maybe he is eating with close aides. Maybe he is dead. Maybe he is walking down the middle of a street, making small talk with visiting American troops.

The man in question is Mullah Omar, the mysterious and secretive figure who was the head of Afghanistan's authoritative Taliban government. Ever since the Taliban was driven from power following 9/11, he has been hunted for, among other things, his suspected close ties to Osama bin Laden.

The State Department has two pictures of Mullah Omar on their Rewards for Justice Web site. But a photojournalist in New York, who is experienced in Afghanistan, has been arguing for months that there is a basic problem revealed to him by his sources: The pictures are not Mullah Omar. Ed Grazda is pushing hard for the State Department to update its images.

Confusion is understandable. The Taliban, citing ultra-orthodox views of Islam, outlawed photographs of people, saying making any image of a human being was forbidden by the Koran. But intelligence agencies argued years ago that another key purpose of that move was just this: If the leaders of the Taliban could keep anyone from taking their pictures, it would be very hard to track them down or prove they were the men in charge during the Taliban's most brutal and repressive days.

The State Department is understandably defensive about the allegation of a mistake. After some relatively tense phone conversations earlier, they sent me an e-mail explaining that they have looked into Mr. Grazda's claim that the men on their site are actually other Afghans ... not the guy they want; but they are sticking with their current pictures because they believe those are the best images they have. They believe the pictures are of Mullah Omar.

Maybe it's him. And maybe it doesn't matter. He's been on the run for nearly five years and we haven't caught him yet.

What do you think? Is a Web site WANTED poster ... right or wrong ... going to make any real difference in the hunt for Mullah Omar?
Posted By Tom Foreman, CNN Correspondent: 9:21 PM ET
  31 Comments
Hi Tom,
I don't about you, but I don't see how you can capture a person who has a mystery face..I will however, give the intelligence community the benefit of the doubt, and choose to believe that they know more than any of us know-it-all critics..Take Care
Posted By Anonymous Lorie Ann, Buellton,Calif. : 10:00 PM ET
I haven't seen him.

Perhaps we should get more creative in how we search and who we put on the case:

Too bad he and bin Laden aren't delinquent on some loan shark loan. Those boys would track them down in no time.

Or perhaps we should put a telemarketer on the case. They would call them in the middle of dinner, wherever his cave/hideout may be.

Jury duty summons?

And, of course, if they were a missing co-ed's grieving parents, Rita Cosby would frighten even them by being right outside their car window, all stalker-like.

Come to think of it, no a bad idea shipping any off these folks off to a dangerous country to do the search.
Posted By Anonymous Norah, West Chester, PA : 10:05 PM ET
That response is scary, typical but scary. Enjoy your reporting. Keep up the good work.
Posted By Anonymous Anna Vital, Tualre, CA : 10:09 PM ET
Well if we are going to profile here in the good ol' usa why not everywhere?Look if you put up a picture of a arab looking man with his head covered and a beard on the "rewardsfor justice" poster then at least one of those guy's have to be the rite one.....rite?
Posted By Anonymous Mark phoenix az. : 10:29 PM ET
I really do not care about his poster being right or wrong. I never watch news before since the crisis between Israel and Lebanon. I do intent to stop watching the news because it makes me sad and I do not like it. So call me ignorant for not watching the news but I do not want to see more faces that are responsible for killing innocent people. Right or wrong???
Posted By Anonymous Johanne, Ontario, Canada : 10:36 PM ET
Well, what's the point of having a "wanted" poster if is not accurate? Is it fair to have an innocent person's picture displayed to the public as a terrorist? What if this was regarding an individual in this country-wouldn't the state department want to ensure accuracy in that case.
Posted By Anonymous Melody Chapin, Harbor Springs : 10:40 PM ET
Hi Tom-
OMG! Of course the correct photograph of Mullah Omar might be HELPFUL! But hey, whatever happened to Osama Bin Forgotten? We ALL know what he looks like but we couldn't get him either. Isn't this just more absurdity and embarrassment for our country? Hmm, maybe the state of our state department is the problem. It's all so frustrating. I just don't understand terrorist anyway. Have you ever wondered if the extreme heat the people are exposed to in the middle east contributes to the birth of the fire ant like terrorist personality? So glad that 360 is keeping 'em honest. By the way Tom, I really enjoy your colorful and animated take on things!
Posted By Anonymous Betty Ann Taylor Nacogdoches, Tx : 10:47 PM ET
I doubt that a picture on a website is going to really make a difference in capturing in this man. Are the people who are searching for him using the outdated image on this website to identify him? Probably not. That said, the State Department should update the website- it may not make any difference but for information's sake it should be corrected.
Posted By Anonymous Jen, Gainesville, Florida : 10:48 PM ET
You never know, maybe the website WANTED poster will help, even if it's not an accurate likeness. It can't hurt. Or maybe it will lead us to other terrorists... Shouldn't the State Dept. use any means possible and cover all their bases in getting the bad guys?
Posted By Anonymous xtina - Chicago IL : 10:52 PM ET
This is very confusing. The State Department doesn't know if the pictures they are displaying are Mullah Omar or not, but they will continue to display them cause these are pictures of Afghan men. Are they insinuating that they all look alike so it doesn't matter? I think that's extremely wrong and immoral. Our government shouldn't be surprised that we question their intelligence.
Posted By Anonymous Lynn, Sugar Land Tx : 11:21 PM ET
who the hell is mullah omar, and why do we care????
Posted By Anonymous Celia, Las Vegas, NV : 11:37 PM ET
Hey Tom! You pose a tough question. At first I thought...if they really want to catch this dude, they should post an actual picture rather than a picture of someone that has his "likeness". Then, I thought...if I was this dude, I surely would change the way I look so I'm not easily recognized. So does it really matter? Probably not. When I did a Google search on Omar, there are quite a few pics out there. All different but similar. Who knows if any of them are him...I bet this guy is laughing at us right now!
Posted By Anonymous Jolene, St. Joseph, MI : 11:49 PM ET
Frankly, no. Those who would have any information probably don't have the resources to access an internet wanted poster, right?
Posted By Anonymous Ross, St. Paul, MN : 12:05 AM ET
Tom,

Don't we have photos of Osama? How long have we looked for him? No, I don't think it matters one iota.

Thanks,
Maggie
Posted By Anonymous Maggie, Grain Valley, MO : 12:05 AM ET
The pictures could be fakes. The pictures could be real and Omar is behind efforts to make people think they are fakes. Maybe he's a superb manipulator trying to confuse people and have them doubt who to trust. Maybe what we have should be doubted utterly. The possibilities are endless and more than one of them could be true at the same time. Besides, if he has any sense, he'll be in the US, as that's where the search isn't. If he's really clever and/or perverse, he might even have an American birth certificate by now and be setting up to run for President in 2008. But, then, this all supposes he ever really existed at all, and wasn't simply a phantom set up by the Taliban for the Americans to chase.
Posted By Anonymous John Smith, Portland, OR : 2:31 AM ET
that's pathetically ridiculous - good find dude - kill em all and let god sort em out is the attitude of our government workers apparently
Posted By Anonymous vilhelm - boston you're my home : 4:42 AM ET
What I think? It doesn't make the slightest diffrence. With all techniques these days you don't know who is who until you take their DNA (and have something to compare it with). But it would be hurting moral to al of a sudden having to delete pictures from the website, because it isn't the guy who they thought it whas. Better be wrong then lose face seems to be the policy these days.
Posted By Anonymous N.Haasnoot, Zeist, The Netherlands : 4:43 AM ET
That's the State Department for ya! Over-promise and under-deliver, like a mantra. DoD may have blown a few big ones, but anyone who has dealt with the US State Department overseas knows that there's a very good reason why the US is unpopular.
Posted By Anonymous Tony, San Diego : 4:53 AM ET
If it's really him, why not? But if it turns out to be of an innocent man - scary.
So, it's important to really be sure, very sure of what you've got because innocent lives are at stake here.
Posted By Anonymous Laipeng Foong, Penang, Malaysia : 4:59 AM ET
It does make a difference. It works as a perfect alibi for not getting these guys to justice. The so called peace agreement between General Musharraf and Taliban and other foreign terrorists would make it further harder to get these guys. The whole 'war against terror' has become a farce, by now.
Posted By Anonymous nilludutta, Toronto, Ontario, Canada : 6:00 AM ET
I just wonder how hard anyone is actually looking for Mullah Omar. Looking for or finding him even, would do nothing for the shock and awe crowd.
Sure he supported and had an uneasy alliance with bin laden. He is a very dangerous man because omar fervently believes in the lifestyle he has always lived.
It was bin laden who manipulated his way into omar's good graces by preaching in omars mosques..He used Omar. It is bin laden that is evil.
Forget Omar. Find bin laden first.
Posted By Anonymous john Linton indiana : 7:28 AM ET
A website wanted poster will not make a bit of difference because the people who live in the areas where he might be, probably do not have internet connectivity. I have been to Afghanistan several times and it truly is the "ends of the earth" in terms of infrastructure and technology. However, those same people who may have contact with him will not turn him in until they are certain that the NATO lead coalition supporting the Karzai government is going to win. In Afghanistan, the people support the guy who controls the resources. Until they know that there is no chance for Mullah Omar to return to power, he can hide out in the open, regardless of websites and blogs.
Posted By Anonymous Kyle, Odenton MD : 8:40 AM ET
You could show real-time video of Mullah Omar, and we still could not find him!! I'd like to know why, when
we had him in our crosshairs, he was
allowed to walk away?? Nobody seems to
remember this, or talk about it. We also could have killed bin Laden at
Tora Bora, and let him slip away. Perhaps we don't WANT to get them??
Posted By Anonymous Steve W, Deltona Fl. : 8:49 AM ET
It may help catch the poor guy that it is a picture of, but if they do not know what he looks like how will the US government know if they have him of not?
Posted By Anonymous Michelle H Salt Lake City utah : 8:49 AM ET
We don't need a correct photo to get Mullah Omar. The government finds people with or without pictures. I've often seen a blank square next to people on the FBI wanted lists.
Posted By Anonymous Don, Phoenix, Arizona : 9:21 AM ET
It is not going to make one iota of difference. There are too many people who wear the same headress, have the same tanned skin and beards. They all seem to have the same first and last name. They are being hidden by family members and others who are supportive of their beliefs.
The only way these people ever seem to get caught is by having an informant turn them in. Even after we kill them there is debate whether they got the right guy.
Posted By Anonymous Bill, Appleton, Wisconsin : 9:24 AM ET
Of course, it matters. If the picture is wrong, maybe, someone is not interested in catching this guy. It's hard to collect rewards if we are cahsing shadows.
Posted By Anonymous Patriot, Marietta, GA : 10:14 AM ET
Typical Bush administration policy: "If there's even a 1% chance that this guy is Omar, we'd better kill him, and anybody standing near him."
Posted By Anonymous Rich in Philadelphia, PA : 10:15 AM ET
Why don't we donate $10 million offered to the Ex-FBI agent that works for Target to investigate and help them expand their work for our government according to your last blog February 9th????? obviously larger companies seem more competent and organized to get the job done faster and better then our own government...hence Katrina.
Posted By Anonymous Lisa Escobedo, Roanoke, Texas : 1:40 PM ET
Fake picture, fake investigation? The picture should be taken down, obviously this is not the picture of Mullah Omar.
Posted By Anonymous Elena, Columbia, SC : 3:50 PM ET
Hi Yes web site wanted posters would be very useful since a lot of people wtih various age, sexes and even works or status in life are often surfing the internet.
Who knows they might spot the web site posters and have some valuable information about the person who were being hunted.
Posted By Anonymous Hilda,Baguio City, Philippines : 5:35 AM ET
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