The Emir of Afghanistan since the 1996 capture of Kabul by Taleban forces. He is (was: see updates at end) the de facto theocratic head of state, although all but three* countries still recognize the previous government of Burhanuddin Rabbani.

Mullah Mohammed Omar holds the title Amir al-Mo`menin or Commander of the Faithful, and in 1997 the country was renamed from Islamic State of Afghanistan to Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan in recognition of his leadership.

He is reclusive, almost never being seen or interviewed. He was born in 1959 in the village of Noudi, near Kandahar; with the death of his father he was forced to become his family's breadwinner while still a boy. He started teaching and preaching, but did not graduate. He is highly regarded by the Pashtuns for his piety and sincerity, and for his courage in opposing both Soviet domination and the cruelty and rapacity of local warlords.

Only one photograph of him is known: a tall man in a black turban; it is from brief film footage of him showing the Cloak of Muhammad, a sacred relic brought out to inspire his followers. He is known to have suffered eye damage during the Soviet occupation. He stays in the southern city of Kandahar, home of the Taleban, and it is possible that the Shura or consultative assembly currently taking place in Kabul is the first time he has visited the capital.

It is also said he has only spoken to two non-Muslims in his life. His first interview, with a Pakistani journalist, took place earlier this year. Most contacts are made via his Foreign Minister.

He became friendly with Osama bin Laden when the latter came to Afghanistan. Their marital arrangements are not fully known, but it is believed at least one has married the daughter of the other. They are also said to go for fishing trips together!

* Now down to one, Pakistan.

Now down to none. The Taleban have fallen; the city of Kandahar surrendered on 7 December 2001 to supporters of the new Afghan leader Hamid Karzai. As I write, I have unconfirmed reports that Mullah Omar has been captured. Other reports say he is still at large or escaped. (Looks like he escaped: as at revision, December 2003, the Mullah is still at large.) His future fate has been controversial: Mr Karzai reportedly offered amnesty to the Taleban if they surrendered, but the US has insisted that Omar should stand trial.

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