REPORTING FROM KABUL, AFGHANISTAN -- A top Taliban official has died in a Pakistani prison, the Taliban announced Monday, saying the death occurred almost two years ago.
Mullah Obaidullah Akhund died in March 2010 in Karachi, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement.
Obaidullah had been a senior lieutenant of Mullah Mohammed Omar, the movement’s supreme commander, and served as the Taliban defense minister during their reign over Afghanistan in the 1990s. He was also one of Osama bin Laden’s main allies within the Taliban during the time when the two organizations were closely linked.
Mujahid said Obaidullah’s relatives in his native Kandahar province and elsewhere had been given "credible evidence" of the death and told it was due to a heart attack. But the Taliban spokesman said it was not known whether that was true or there were "tortures in prison."
Mujahid said family members and the Taliban were seeking more information from Pakistani authorities about the circumstances of the death, including why it had been kept quiet for so long.
Reflecting the murky aspects of Pakistan’s relationship with the Taliban leadership, there were conflicting reports about Obaidullah’s sojourn in Pakistani custody.
His high-profile arrest was announced in early 2007, coinciding with a visit to the region by then-Vice President Dick Cheney. He was said to have been freed later that year in a prisoner swap, then re-arrested a few months later.
-- Laura King and Aimal Yaqubi
Photo: Supporters of a pro-Taliban party in Karachi, Pakistan, rally in January. Credit: Shakil Adil / Associated Press