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2 Taliban leaders mysteriously stopped appearing in public, forcing a spokesperson to deny one of them had died

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The disappearances of two top Taliban figures from public view have prompted a spokesperson to deny that one of them had died, multiple outlets reported.

The group's top leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, hasn't been seen in public since the group seized Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 15, Reuters reported.

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the group's deputy prime minister, also hasn't been seen for days, The Guardian reported. 

On Monday, Suhail Shaheen, a spokesperson for the militant group, issued a statement over Twitter denying rumors that Baradar had been killed in a fight. 

—Suhail Shaheen. محمد سهیل شاهین (@suhailshaheen1) September 13, 2021

Using a different spelling of Baradar's name and the Taliban's term for Afghanistan, Shaheen said Baradar had used a voice message to reject "all those claims that he was injured or killed in a clash. He says it is lies and totally baseless."

The "clash" seemed to refer to rumors that Baradar's supporters had got into a fight with those of Sirajuddin Haqqani, one of his political rivals, Reuters reported.

The group released footage it said showed Baradar in meetings in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan, the agency reported. The group also released photographs of a handwritten note that it said was from one of Baradar's deputies, confirming the Kandahar meeting, The Guardian reported.

Insider was unable to independently confirm the footage or the audio as authentic and hasn't reviewed the note. 

The Taliban hasn't made such denials about leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada. He is rarely pictured and rarely makes public statements in person, a Reuters profile said.

The Taliban leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada in an undated photograph, posted on a Taliban Twitter feed on May 25, 2016. Twitter via Reuters

The Taliban has previously attempted to keep the death of a leader under wraps.

In 2015, the group disclosed that its founding leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, had died two years prior, as the Associated Press reported at the time. Nonetheless, the group had continued to issue statements in his name until the death was disclosed, The Guardian reported.

The Taliban's secretiveness has generally been attached to its status as an insurgent group — so the disappearances amid its newfound dominance in Afghanistan have fueled the rumors, The Guardian reported.

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