Taliban excavate Mullah Omar's car used to escape after U.S. invasion
An old white Toyota Corolla has been unearthed in southern Afghanistan as the Taliban dig new avenues to demonstrate their power in the country.
The vehicle was used by the militant group's founding leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, to escape US forces after their invasion in 2001.
It had been buried in a previously unidentified location but was unearthed on Tuesday after Omar's grave was identified in Zabul, a province in the south of the country.
"The car belongs to our late supreme leader and will be taken to a museum," Maulvi Arifullah, an Interior Ministry official, told NBC News.
Omar fled from Kandahar to Zabul in a Toyota car at the start of the US-led invasion, the Taliban said. He continued to live in hiding in a small mud house until his death in 2013, but with the group once again ruling Afghanistan following the US withdrawal, his Toyota could soon be on public display.
Anas Haqqani, a Taliban leader, tweeted that the vehicle should be placed in the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul.
The car was buried next to the mud wall of a traditional village in southern Afghanistan's Zabul province. (Mjalal313 / Twitter)
Photos from the dig showed the vehicle covered in plastic sheeting and dirt. Cleaning and maintenance work on the vehicle continued.
Omar was known to be one-eyed, having lost his right eye to a shrapnel wound while fighting Soviet troops occupying Afghanistan in the 1980s.
Experts say the attempt to dig up his car is an attempt by the hardline Islamic movement to consolidate power over the country, which is facing an economic and hunger crisis after foreign powers cut humanitarian aid over its restrictions on women's rights and others have set freedoms.
"The Taliban are trying to consolidate their power by reviving symbols of their own history," said Shuja Nawaz, a policy analyst at the Atlantic Council's South Asia Center, a Washington, D.C. resident think tank, on Wednesday.
"They do not respect the history and culture of other Islamic sects or other religions."
The devastation caused by an earthquake that claimed more than 1,000 lives in late June also exposed poor Taliban governance in the country, he added.
Other experts noted the irony in the Taliban's efforts to memorialize the vehicle after destroying much of Afghanistan's cultural heritage.
The car's recovery and planned worship follows years of systematic destruction of ancient cultural sites and relics in Afghanistan, a continuation of the extremist ideology the group has enforced in the country during its rule from 1996 to 2001 and since its last return to power in August.
Months before the Taliban lost control of Afghanistan in 2001, they shocked the world by destroying giant sixth-century Buddhas carved into rock faces in the Bamiyan Valley. The group has since attempted to revitalize the site as a tourist attraction, encouraging the public to visit the caves where the statues once stood.
"There is a bittersweet irony in the Taliban's excavation of mullah Omar's Toyota ... given their disregard for much of Afghan history and culture," said Emily Winterbotham, director of the Terrorism and Conflict Research Group at RUSI, a British security think tank.
"Remembrance of past conflicts in Afghanistan has largely focused on glorifying leaders while ignoring the experiences of victims," she added. "The display of the car in the country's national museum shows that little has changed."
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