Mullah Omar hunt captures brother-in-law, others escape

Wednesday, August 7, 2002

KABUL, Afghanistan -- The 8-month-old hunt for Mullah Mohammad Omar hit close to home with the capture reported Tuesday of a brother-in-law of the fugitive Taliban leader.

Other men with him fled into the Afghan mountains, the local governor said, but it was not known whether Omar was believed among them.

The man named Noorullah, brother of one of Omar's three wives, was arrested on Sunday in the central province of Uruzgan, provincial Gov. Jan Mohammad Khan told The Associated Press by satellite telephone.

He said Noorullah had been "trying to carry out sabotage." The governor did not elaborate.

"Our people and the Americans went into the mountains to search for his friends who fled," the governor said.

Search continues

He refused to say where the arrest took place or where the hunt was continuing. "I don't want to talk about that because our men are up there in the mountains right now," Jan Mohammad said.

Small teams of American special operations troops and allied Afghan forces have been searching for Omar for months in Uruzgan, his home province, among 10,000-foot peaks and near-impassable roads.

The U.S. command in Afghanistan, headquartered at Bagram air base north of Kabul, the capital, had no immediate comment Tuesday on the reported arrest and search.

Later attempts to re-establish contact with the governor to obtain an update were unsuccessful.

The bearded, one-eyed cleric Mullah Omar, spiritual leader of the Taliban's 1996-2001 regime, has been sought since fleeing the Taliban headquarters city of Kandahar, 60 miles south of Uruzgan, on the night of Dec. 6.

He got away with trusted aides as part of a deal surrendering Kandahar peacefully to anti-Taliban forces.

Since then, regular reports, some credible, have reached Afghan authorities of sightings of the fugitive leader moving from place to place in Uruzgan and elsewhere in south and central Afghanistan, apparently to stay several steps ahead of those hunting him.

Believed in Afghanistan

American military and intelligence officials said two weeks ago that Omar is believed still in Afghanistan and may be in Uruzgan.

By contrast, few credible reports have surfaced of sightings of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, the No. 1 U.S. target in Afghanistan, since the U.S.-led campaign that brought down the Taliban government and broke up the al-Qaida terrorist network in Afghanistan.

American officials said it was the hunt for Omar that brought U.S. forces into the Deh Rawood district, the mullah's home district in Uruzgan, a month ago, when an American air attack killed 48 innocent civilians, most of them women and children, according to the official Afghan count. Many were part of a late-night wedding celebration.

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