KABUL: The Taliban on Wednesday denied reports of the death of Jalaluddin Haqqani, the founder of the Pakistani-linked Haqqani network which is regularly blamed for major attacks in Afghanistan.
“We strongly dismiss the reports that Jalaluddin Haqqani is dead. He's alive,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP, attributing the reports to “government propaganda”.
The Haqqanis, who are closely affiliated with the Taliban, are a key player in the insurgency against US-led Nato troops and Karzai's Western-backed government, particularly in eastern Afghanistan.
Tolo, Afghanistan's first 24-hour rolling news television channel, said Jalaluddin had died from kidney disease, claiming on its Twitter feed that the Taliban had confirmed it.
The United States blamed last month's 18-hour assault on Kabul, the biggest to hit the capital in a decade, on the Haqqani network, saying the group's leaders planned the attack from North Waziristan, in Pakistan's lawless tribal belt.
Before stepping down as chief US military officer last year, Admiral Mike Mullen caused a sensation when he told Congress that the Haqqani network was a “veritable arm” of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.
Haqqani was a mujahedeen leader sponsored by the CIA, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia during the fight against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.
He served in the Taliban government after it took power in 1996 following years of civil war.
He is known to have close ties to al Qaeda, and after the fall of the Taliban regime in the 2001 US-led invasion, he joined the insurgency. In recent years, his son Sirajuddin has taken on increasing leadership within the group from his father, who was born in 1942.