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The reclusive ruler who runs the Taliban

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A Pakistani official arrived in Kandahar, Afghanistan, this spring, on a mission to save two towering 1,700-year-old mountain carvings of Buddha. He tried to dissuade the Taliban Supreme Leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, from blowing up the statues.

Mullah Omar replied by describing a dream he'd had about "a mountain falling down on him." Before it hit him, Allah appeared, asking Omar why he did nothing to get rid of the false idols.

"I closed my attaché case," the Pakistani recalls, shoulders sagging. "There was nothing left to say."

Such private visions are part of the decisionmaking process that has guided the life of the man who rose from village mullah to Taliban leader to partner of Osama bin Laden.

Those who have met Omar, say he's tall (6 foot, 6 inches) bearded, reclusive, and a lover of war stories. A fierce commander, he was wounded four times in the jihad against the Soviets, leaving him with one eye.

His title, "Commander of the Faithful," has not been adopted by any Muslim anywhere for nearly 1000 years. Omar has given few interviews, rarely meets with non-Muslims, and there is only one known photo of him - as a young man. Diplomats describe him as shy and untalkative with foreigners. Omar says he has one son.

"He has never visited Kabul, the capital," says Rahimullah Yousefzai, who has interviewed Omar twice for The News, a Karachi, Pakistan, based newspaper. "He is not a great speaker. To his followers, his strength is his piety, the force of his belief."

In the past year, facing drought, military problems, a lack of international recognition, and sanctions, Omar has become increasingly isolated, and influenced by Arabs such as Ayman Zawahiri, Osama Bin Laden's No. 2. Omar's rhetoric used to focus on rebuilding Afghanistan, and even on censuring Mr. bin Ladin. During the past year, his public statements have taken on a pan-Islamic tone found more among militant Islamists from Egypt and Saudi Arabia.


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