Taliban deny their deputy prime minister, Mullah Baradar, is dead

(Reuters) – The Taliban have denied that one of their top leaders was killed in a shootout with rivals, following rumors of internal divisions in the movement nearly a month after their blitzkrieg victory over the Western-backed government in Kabul.

Sulail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman, said Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a former head of the Taliban political bureau who was appointed deputy prime minister last week, issued a voicemail rejecting claims that he had been killed or injured in a showdown.

“He says they are lies and totally unfounded,” Shaheen said in a message on Twitter.

The Taliban also released video footage allegedly showing Baradar at meetings in the southern city of Kandahar. Reuters could not immediately verify the images.

The denials follow days of rumors that Baradar’s supporters had clashed with those of Sirajuddin Haqqani, head of the Haqqani network that is based near the Pakistani border and was accused of some of the worst suicide attacks in the country. war.

The rumors follow speculation about possible rivalries between military commanders like Haqqani and leaders of the Doha political office like Baradar, who led diplomatic efforts to reach an agreement with the United States.

The Taliban have repeatedly denied speculation about internal divisions.

Baradar, once seen as the likely head of a Taliban government, had not been seen in public for some time and was not part of the ministerial delegation that met with Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al- Thani, in Kabul on Sunday.

The movement’s supreme leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, has also not been seen in public since the Taliban took Kabul on August 15, although he issued a public statement when the new government was formed last week.

Speculation about the Taliban leaders has been fueled by the circumstances surrounding the death of the movement’s founder, Mullah Omar, which was only made public in 2015 two years after it happened, prompting bitter recriminations among the leaders.

(Reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

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