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Luck runs out for notorious Taliban commander

SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Feared Taliban military commander Mullah Dadullah survived war wounds and evaded capture for years but on Saturday his luck ran out.

He was killed in the southern province of Helmand by the Western troops he had repeatedly vowed to expel.

The militant commander, who was about 40, lost a leg in a landmine blast during fighting in the 1990s but that didn’t dampen his zeal for jihad, or holy war.

“He was very kind to us but very brutal to enemies,” a close aide to Mullah Dadullah told Reuters on Sunday. Mullah is a title for a Muslim cleric that many senior Taliban use.

Dadullah was an ethnic Pashtun from the southern province of Uruzgan and studied in Kandahar.

During the Taliban’s 1996-2001 rule he earned a reputation as a ruthless commander who ordered revenge massacres of Shia Muslim ethnic minority Hazara people in Afghanistan’s central highlands.

Towards the end of Taliban rule he was put in charge of the north of the country where most people loathed the hardline Islamists.

An enthusiastic enforcer of the Taliban’s strict Islamic code, residents of the north said Dadullah made a point of throwing the first stone on the many occasions he sentenced women to death by stoning for “prostitution”.

That crime was often used as a pretext for executing women said to have sympathies with the opposition Northern Alliance, residents said.

Another of his favorite tactics was to burn villages to the ground if he suspected them of helping the Northern Alliance.

Days before the fall of the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif to U.S.-backed forces in November 2001, residents said he rounded up some farmers and had them hung from lamp-posts on suspicion that they were opposition supporters and as a warning to others.

But in late 2001, with the Taliban regime crumbling, opposition forces let Dadullah slip out of their hands after the hated commander was surrounded in the northeastern Taliban stronghold of Kunduz.

Weeks later he surfaced, vowing the Taliban would regroup and regain power.

BOMBER, BAKER

A member of the Taliban’s 10-man leadership council, Dadullah took charge of Taliban military operations in the south of the country in 2004. He was known for personally taking part in fighting.

He also seemed to relish media attention and was the only Taliban commander who would not hide his heavily bearded face and turbaned head while being interviewed.

In recent years he championed suicide bombing, encouraging youngsters to sign up for missions and taunting foreign forces who he said were cowed in the face of suicide attacks.

“Infidels cannot do anything about suicide attacks ... they are cowards while we Muslims are making sacrifices for the independence of the country,” he told Reuters by telephone last year.

During protests last year against Danish newspaper cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, he was reported to have offered 5 kg of gold to anyone who killed a Danish soldier.

Apparently copying tactics of Iraqi insurgents, Dadullah was also directly involved in the kidnapping of foreigners.

He copied another gruesome tactic widely used in Iraq: “He was the one who began beheadings in Afghanistan,” his aide said.

But the aide insisted Dadullah could also be kind.

“He used to bake bread for his colleagues,” he said.

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