QUETTA: A prominent prayer leader who was gunned down by unidentified motorcyclists on Friday evening in the Nawan Killi area of Quetta was buried in his home province of Zabul in Afghanistan, officials said on Sunday.

The body of the cleric, Mohammad Omar Jan Akhundzada, was taken to Afghanistan by his family, an official, who asked not to be named, told Dawn. The official revealed that Mr Akhundzada was a leader of the Afghan Taliban but had been living in Nawan Killi, a human settlement on Quetta’s outskirts, for more than 13 years.

Before his assassination, he had succeeded his father as the prayer leader at the same mosque. He was around 55 years old, a holder of a Pakistani national identity card, and owned a house in the area.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Afghan Taliban government, posted on the social media platform X that Mr Akhundzada was a senior religious scholar and had previously taught at a Taliban-run madrassa in Kandahar. He was also a member of the Afghan Taliban’s oversight committee.

Quetta police have initiated an investigation into the killing. “We are investigating the killing of Molvi Mohammad Omar Jan but were unaware of his status within the Taliban government in Afghanistan,” a senior police officer said. He added that more details would be shared after the investigation is concluded.

According to sources, Mr Akhundzada had moved to Quetta about 13 years ago following disagreements with the Afghan Taliban, living with his father, who also resided in Nawan Killi. However, his family has denied any links with the Taliban government.

Sources also said that Mr Akhundzada was close to Taliban supreme leader Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, who had also served as a prayer leader in a mosque in Kuchlak before leading the Afghan Taliban.

Police officials in Quetta said no individual or group immediately claimed responsibility for the killing of Molvi Mohammad Omar Jan.

Published in Dawn, April 22nd, 2024

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