Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, senior Afghan Taliban leader, announced dead

A former senior leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, is dead, the group announced this morning.

He reportedly died in a Pakistani jail in March 2010, but a statement by the Taliban said his relatives had only learned of his death a few days ago, the BBC reported.

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Pakistani authorities told Obaidullah's family he died of heart disease, the statement said, but his relatives suspect he may have been tortured.

"We strongly urge the Pakistani authorities to provide accurate and complete information regarding his detention, sickness and his death," said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, quoted by Reuters.

According to the Los Angeles Times:

"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."

He was arrested in south-west Pakistan in 2007, when he was the highest-ranking member of the Afghan Taliban to be captured since the fall of the regime in 2001, according to the Associated Press.

He was reportedly freed later the same year in a prisoner swap, and then re-arrested under pressure from the US in 2008.

According to the UK Press Association, Obaidullah was one of several Afghan Taliban being considered earlier this year to serve as a representative at possible peace talks between NATO and the rebel group.

His death was announced as 19 members of the Taliban surrendered to the local government in Afghanistan's western Herat province on Monday, the Xinhua news agency reported.

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