Taliban deny their deputy prime minister, Mullah Baradar, is dead

The Taliban have denied that one of their top leaders has been killed in a shootout with rivals, following rumours about internal splits in the movement nearly a month after its lightning victory over the Western-backed government in Kabul.

The denials come amid persistent rumors of internal divisions within the Taliban as it tries to transform from a guerrilla insurgency to a group that can govern Afghanistan. Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman, said Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, former head of the Taliban political office who was named deputy prime minister last week, issued a voice message rejecting claims he had been killed or injured in a clash.The Taliban also denies it is facing internal divisions. The Taliban also has released photos of a handwritten note claiming Baradar had recently left Kabul for Kandahar. But information being released by the Taliban has only served to fuel speculation about his fate. The denials follow days of rumours that supporters of Baradar had clashed with those of Sirajuddin Haqqani, head of the Haqqani network that is based near the border with Pakistan and was blamed for some of the worst suicide attacks of the war. Baradar has not been seen in public for several days. He was not part of a Taliban delegation that met in Kabul on September 12 with visiting Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani.