Perhaps it's not surprising that Mullah Omar, the shadowy, one-eyed, camera-shunning Taliban leader who vanished when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, is often the subject of rumors. The latest round of speculation, like seemingly every controversy these days, revolves around phone hacking allegations. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tells Reuters today that U.S. intelligence officials hacked into the Taliban's cell phones, email accounts, and website, sending text and email messages to reporters indicating that Omar had died (a NATO spokesman declined to comment on the accusation). Mujajid says Omar is alive and directing Taliban operations in Afghanistan, and threatened "revenge on the telephone network providers." The militant group adds that the "technical workers of the Islamic Emirate's Information and Cultural Commission"--what the Los Angeles Times calls, as discordant as it may sound, the "Taliban's IT team"--are investigating the incident and that the organization would reconsider how it published news. Indeed, the Taliban's Facebook page has barely updated today and its website is down (the group abandoned Twitter last month).
The flap comes only two months after Afghanistan's TOLO News reported that Omar had been shot dead in Pakistan, where western officials believe he's hiding. The article, which claimed that the former Pakistani intelligence chief, Gen. Hamid Gul, had been transporting the Taliban leader from Quetta to North Waziristan when Omar was killed, prompted another vociferous denial from the Taliban. A few months earlier, The Washington Post, citing a private intelligence company, reported that Omar had suffered a heart attack and was receiving treatment at a Karachi hospital with the help of Pakistan's spy agency.
The rumors really grew bizarre last week, however, when Homa Sultani, a member of Afghanistan's lower house of parliament, said she'd secretly met the Taliban leader twice in the past year--first in Helmand province and then near Kabul--to broker peace between Omar and Afghan President Hamid Karzai's administration. During the second meeting, she explained, "I spread my headscarf for him on the floor and he sat on it." The Taliban once again batted down the speculation. "It will take more than a woman's scarf to bring peace," a Taliban spokesperson retorted, according to Pakistan's Express Tribune. We imagine the phone-hacking spat won't bring peace any closer, either.