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Saturday, 5 January, 2002, 21:16 GMT
Profile: Mullah Zaeef
Mullah Zaeef
Mr Zaeef's press briefings were always packed
Mullah Abdul Salem Zaeef rose to prominence as the Taleban's mouthpiece following the 11 September terrorist attacks against the United States, becoming a permanent fixture on news broadcasts across the globe.

As the Taleban's only foreign envoy, the 34-year-old ambassador to Pakistan quickly became the international face of the regime under fire.

The only other two countries which had recognised the Taleban, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, had sent their Afghan diplomats home as the pressure to isolate the regime intensified.

Accompanied by a stern one-eyed translator with a plastic hand, Mullah Zaeef gave daily press briefings to the media while bombs dropped on his homeland, and was frequently seen smiling and joking with journalists.

Taleban embassy in Islamabad
The Taleban's last foreign embassy was closed down in November
From the outset the bespectacled mullah insisted that the US retaliatory campaign against Afghanistan was an unjust one, and said his country would fight to protect the "dignity of Islam".

He also provided graphic details of the casualties and suffering he said had been inflicted during the intensive raids.

It was Mullah Zaeef's popular briefings that prompted an anxious US and UK to set up a media centre in Pakistan to improve their propaganda campaign, fearing they were losing the public relations battle.

Game over

Mr Zaeef's official appearances continued until the Pakistani authorities, who had already sought to rein in his briefings, decided to close down his embassy in late November, severing ties with a regime they had traditionally sponsored.

But seen by many as representing the more moderate side of his fundamentalist colleagues, there was initially some suggestion that he might be included in an interim government to replace the old regime.

Such ideas were rejected. Afraid for the safety of himself and his family, comprised of two wives and six children, he applied for asylum in Pakistan, but his application was turned down.

On 5 January, Mr Zaeef was deported to Afghanistan, where he was taken into custody by US military forces.

See also:

07 Nov 01 | South Asia
Pakistan reins in Taleban mouthpiece
22 Nov 01 | South Asia
Taleban upset at embassy closure
10 Oct 01 | South Asia
Interview: Taleban ambassador Zaeef
05 Jan 02 | South Asia
US names dead soldier
04 Jan 02 | South Asia
Deal signed on Afghan peace force
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