Militant leader confirmed dead after years of uncertainty

After years of rumors about the whereabouts of Jalaluddin Haqqani, the founder of the Haqqani terror network, the Taliban in Afghanistan announced his death Tuesday.

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The Afghan militant group said Haqqani, 72, died after a long, unspecified illness.

“Just as he endured great hardships for the religion of Allah during his youth and health, he also endured long illness during his later years,” the group said.

Haqqani had been missing for years and reports of his death were widespread in 2015, but they were never confirmed.

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The Pakistan-based Haqqani network, which also operates in Afghanistan, has been blamed for a number of high-profile suicide attacks and violence. It’s also been blamed for kidnappings of Western and Afghan hostages.

The United States designated the Haqqani network a terrorist organization in 2012.

It’s not clear from the Taliban statement when Haqqani died, but his family said Tuesday he had, in fact, died.

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“It is with great regret that today we are remembering a person who lived the life of an ascetic and who shunned fame, rank and office,” the family said in a statement. “Mawlawi Jalauddin Haqqani (may Allah have mercy on him) was not only an honorable personality and pride of a region or a country but was the embodiment of refuge, hidden and open treasures of aspirations of the oppressed Muslims around the world.”

Haqqani passed operational control of the network to his son Siraj many years ago, CNN reported.

When he founded the network in the 1970s, Haqqani was a guerrilla leader who battled Soviet troops after Moscow’s invasion of Afghanistan. He once was called a “freedom fighter” by former U.S. President Ronald Reagan.