Afghanistan: One of the most secretive Taliban leaders shows his face

Sirajuddin Haqqani, head of the Islamist government's powerful interior ministry, showed his face for the first time on Saturday at an official ceremony in Kabul.

Afghanistan: One of the most secretive Taliban leaders shows his face
Sirajuddin Haqqani showed himself openly for the first time on Saturday Wakil KOHSAR / AFP

The only known photo of him was on an FBI wanted poster: Sirajuddin Haqqani, one of the most secretive Taliban leaders, showed his face uncovered for the first time on Saturday at an official ceremony in Kabul.

Haqqani, at the head of the powerful interior ministry of the Islamist government in power since last August, has so far only appeared photographed and filmed from behind or his face always blurred. " For your satisfaction and to establish your confidence (...) I appear in the media during a public meeting with you ," he said in a speech at a promotion ceremony for students of police academy.

Until they took power in August, Sirajuddin Haqqani was both one of the three deputy leaders of the Taliban led by Hibatullah Akhundzada, and the leader of the powerful network that bears his name. Akhundzada himself has not been seen in public since the Taliban took over, and some Afghan analysts believe he may not be alive.

The Haqqani network is accused of carrying out some of the most violent attacks perpetrated by the Taliban in Afghanistan in the past 20 years. Sirajuddin Haqqani remains on the FBI's most wanted suspects list, which has promised up to $10 million for information that could lead to his arrest.

This notice reproduces a photo of his face but in profile and covered with a shawl, and two black and white sketches of the face. Snapshots of Haqqani taken on Saturday were widely shared on social media by Taliban officials.

At the ceremony, he appeared like many of the regime's senior leaders, wearing a long, full beard and a black turban topped with a white shawl. He posted himself like this so that “ you can see how valuable our leadership is ,” he said.

Attack on the Serena Hotel

The minister's public appearance also suggests the Taliban's increased confidence in their grip on the country. Several diplomats were present at the ceremony, including the Pakistani ambassador, although no country has yet recognized the Islamic fundamentalist regime.

The Haqqani network, founded in the 1970s by Jalaluddin Haqqani, the father of the current interior minister, was supported by the CIA during the mujahideen war against the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan.

Sirajuddin Haqqani, believed to be in his 40s, succeeded his father who died in 2018. He was notably accused of the deadly 2008 attack on the Serena hotel in Kabul which killed six people, and of at least one assassination attempt against former Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

It would have been the target of several US drone strikes, both in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and in the border region in North Waziristan, stronghold of the network. The FBI, which describes him as a " global terrorist ", accuses him of maintaining " close ties " with the Al-Qaeda network.


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