Mullah (Mollah, Moolah) Mohammad (Mohammed, Muhammad) Omar is Afghanistan's religious dictator and "Commander of the Faithful" at the time of writing. (Update: see below)
Born to a poor farmer in the southwestern Mewand district of the country in 1962, the young Mohammad Omar went to his local school to study Islam's holy scripture, the Koran. However, his studies were never completed, and instead he joined the "holy war" Jihad against Russia as a celebrated "war hero", with the RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade launcher) as his favorite weapon. He was injured four times in battle, thus losing his left eye.
He quickly became the chief commander in the Harakat-i-Inqilab-i Islami party of Muhammad Nabi Muhammad, and as the leader of the Taleban movement, he gained ultimate power of Afghanistan in the mid-nineties after a series of battles.
Despite the bloody way to power, the Taleban leadership has provided some relative sense of stability in contrast with the country's history, and this is frequently cited as the main reason for the public's consent, if not support, for the leadership in spite of its undemocratic manners and feudal tendencies.
Mullah Omar was appointed on April 3, 1996 by over 1,000 Muslim clergymen as the "Amirul-Mumineen", Supreme Leader of the Muslims, and presides over the court in the sparsely furnished governor's mansion in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan. He allegedly maintains his leadership by handing out large sums of money in cash to members of the Taleban militia. According to a 1997 Time Magazine (www.time.com) article, rumors exist that Mullah Omar has received military aid from neigboring Pakistan, rumors that have been refuted by the leader.
Under his leadership, girls' schools have been closed, men are forced to grow beards, TVs and VCRs have been outlawed, and on February 27, 2001, Philip T. Reeker, Deputy Spokesman of the U.S. Department of State (www.state.gov) released the following statement to the press, entitled Afghanistan: Ordered Destruction of Cultural Treasures.
Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar issued orders on February 26 to destroy all statues in Afghanistan, claiming this was in line with "Islamic" beliefs. Afghan museums contain ancient and culturally priceless statuary from the Greek, Buddhist and other eras of the country's rich and varied history. Two massive and ancient statues of the Buddha, located in the central province of Bamiyan, date from the second century and are among the world's great cultural treasures.
The United States is distressed and baffled by this announcement by the Taliban. Their action directly contradicts one of Islam's basic tenets -- tolerance for other religions. Deliberate destruction of statues and sculpture held as sacred by peoples of different faiths is incomprehensible, as is the Taliban's utter rejection of the treasures of Afghanistan's past.
The United States joins the United Nations Special Mission to Afghanistan, the UN Economic and Social Council and other governments in urging the Taliban to halt this desecration of Afghanistan's cultural heritage.
On July 19, 2001, Russian newspaper Pravda ("The Truth") reported in its English online edition (http://english.pravda.ru) that Mullah Mohammad Omar decreed a ban on so-called "anti-Islamic goods", such as certain musical instruments, games such as chess, statues, clothes, and postcards portraying people and/or animals. According to Pravda, the document states that "The ultimate goal of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is to popularize Islamic values and combat whatever has nothing to do with them".
These things have rendered Mullah Omar and his Taleban movement highly unpopular in most other parts of the world. A man with many supporters, he is also a man with many enemies. On August 25, 1998, a truck bomb exploded near his Kandahar home, killing seven people, including three of the leader's personal bodyguards, in what may have been an assassination attempt directed at the Mullah himself. Only three months later, Taleban official Abdul Hai Mutamain's vehicle was destroyed by a bomb.
However, these threats seem miniscule in comparison with the threat of a U.S. offensive following the attack on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., as well as the hijacking of the airliner that crashed in Pennsylvania, all on September 11, 2001. The Taleban regime has provided shelter for terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, whose fourth wife happens to be Mullah Mohammad Omar's daughter. Bin Laden is the suspected mastermind behind the attacks, and is the self-proclaimed mastermind of several other attacks.
This writeup was created independently with respect to the one above in this node (Txikwa's writeup wasn't there when I started working on mine), and was originally in a node of its own (with the title as written in the body of this writeup).
The latest developments:
Several things have happened since this writeup was created.
Some early reports held that Osama bin Laden had assumed responsibility for the September 11 attacks after the U.S-led NATO forces began massive bombings of Taleban-controlled areas. Later reports would indicate that this was not the case.
The U.S. bombings helped the Northern Alliance in their struggle against the Talebans.
On November 7, 2001, the takeover of the last Taleban-controlled city, Kandahar, was completed after the Northern Alliance had taken all other cities, including Kabul, the capital. Mullah Mohammad Omar's whereabouts, however, were unknown, as were Osama bin Laden's.
Prominent members of the temporary government appointed at negotiations in Bonn, Germany, expressed wishes to grant the Mullah amnesty if he would condemn terrorism. The U.S. government expressed strong opposition, and some consessions were made on behalf of Afghanistan's new government.
On January 4, 2002, Afghan forces supported by U.S. troops had surrounded the village of Baghran, where the ex-leader was believed to be hiding and keeping in touch with bin Laden.
The following day, it was reported that Omar had managed to escape the village and most likely the Helmand province, in which it is located, on a motorcycle.
In August, 2002, Afghanistan's foreign minister Dr. Abdullah said he believed Omar survived the bombings of the Tora Bora region and was hiding with Osama bin Laden in Pakistan or possibly in a remote region of Afghanistan, according to AP and Reuters. He apparently bases this on absolutely nothing.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has later stated on CNN's Late Edition that Omar was alive, and that unlike similar claims of bin Laden, this had been verified. In fact, the Mullah had supposedly narrowly evaded capturing on several occasions. According to a Reuters summary of the interview with President Karzai, he said that part of the difficulty in apprehending Omar is that his face is known by so few.
According to the same report, U.S. intelligence, as of early October 2002, also believed Omar was still alive in southern Afghanistan. These suspicions were further cemented when a satellite telephone conversation between Omar and his former deputy Prime Minister Maulvi Kabir was intercepted by U.S. and Afghan intelligence as reported by Associated Press on October 7.
A recording with an interview of al-Qaida's second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri received by Associated Press Television News just a few days later and has been confirmed as recorded no earlier than August 2002 and probably much later than that by the terrorist propaganda organization As-Sahaab Foundation for Islamic Media. In the sound recording, al-Zawahri states that both Omar and bin Laden were "both in good health."
Information that the CIA targeted Omar with a pilotless, Hellfire AGM-armed Predator plane in the early days of the war was reported by AP in November, 2002. Missiles were not fired directly at Omar for fear of collateral damage.
A reward of up to $10,000,000 awaits the person who captures Omar or provides information leading to his arrest or the retrieval of his body. Rumor has it that Omar has named Taleban commander Mullah Akhtar Mohammed Usmani as his successor.