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Tuesday, 22 January, 2002, 15:23 GMT
Mullah Omar 'survived missile strikes'
A rare picture of Mullah Omar
Mullah Omar is reported to have escaped in a taxi
Mullah Omar's driver has described how the former Taleban leader survived two direct US missile strikes at the start of the US-led campaign in Afghanistan.

The first happened on Mullah Omar's house in Kandahar. He fled with his second wife and a number of his children in a taxi.

Mullah Omar was generally good to those who worked for him

Mohammed Rahim, Taleban driver
Then an hour later, shortly after the family left the taxi, that too was hit, according to Mohammed Rahim, Mullah Omar's Taleban driver.

Mr Rahim, in an interview with Reuters news agency, said Mullah Omar was at his home in Kandahar when it sustained a direct hit from a US missile.

"The missile struck and all of (Omar's) family ran outside in panic, and Mullah Omar asked me to get a taxi," Mohammed Rahim was quoted as saying.

The taxi belonged to Mr Rahim and Mullah Omar reportedly opted to use it rather than one of his own cars as it would be less conspicuous.

Second attack

"I was really scared. He told me to go to Sangisar. This was at night - the missile hit the house at 2055 (1625 GMT)," Mr Rahim said.

But within minutes of arriving at Sangisar, shortly after Mullah Omar and his family had got out, the taxi was hit by a US missile too, Mr Rahim said.

Kandahar mosque
Mullah Omar was forced to flee Kandahar twice

Mr Rahim said that the attack was aimed specifically at the taxi as nothing else in the village was hit by the US strike.

Mr Rahim said that as the missile struck he ran away, while Mullah Omar and his family fled on foot in another direction.

Mr Rahim told Reuters it was the last time he saw Mullah Omar.

Mr Rahim said he stayed in Sangisar for a week before returning to Kandahar.

Taleban support

There are reports that Mullah Omar also returned to Kandahar, this time alone, but when Kandahar fell to anti-Taleban forces Mullah Omar fled the city once more.

Mr Rahim said he first met Mullah Omar in Sangisar around 1994. He said he joined the Taleban as a driver because he supported the movement's tough stance on bandits plaguing the area.

As a Taleban driver he earned about three million afghanis ($150) a month - twice the average.

"Mullah Omar was generally good to those who worked for him, in my opinion, he was a good person. He didn't say anything bad to anyone that I know of," Mr Rahim was quoted as saying.

He said Mullah Omar's one indulgence was the gheijj, or Pashtun wrestling, and used to go a lot.

Mullah Omar, like his ally Osama Bin Laden, the prime suspect in the 11 September terror attacks on America, remains at large. US and Afghan forces continue to hunt for them both.

Authorities in the southern city of Kandahar said they are concentrating their search for Mullah Omar on central Uruzgan province and south-eastern Zabul.

But they said they did not know the whereabouts of Bin Laden.

See also:

18 Sep 01 | South Asia
Profile: Mullah Mohammed Omar
05 Jan 02 | South Asia
Mullah Omar 'flees on motorbike'
07 Dec 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Deciding Mullah Omar's fate
14 Dec 01 | South Asia
Karzai's pursuit of Mullah Omar
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