Washington: Mullah Mohammed Omar, the one-eyed leader of the Taliban, is living in Karachi with the help of Pakistan's intelligence service, The Washington Times said on Friday.
Mullah Omar, who hosted Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders when they plotted the 9/11 attacks, had been residing in Quetta, where the Afghan Taliban shura - or council - had moved from Kandahar after the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
Two senior US intelligence officials and one former senior CIA officer told The Washington Times that Mullah Omar travelled to Karachi last month after the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
THE TALIBAN: Taliban supporters in Pakistan's northwest prepare for battle.
He inaugurated a new senior leadership council in Karachi, a city that so far has escaped US and Pakistani counter-terrorism campaigns, the officials said.
Pakistani officials said they were perplexed by the US reports, the newspaper reported.
The US officials, two of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) helped Taliban leaders move from Quetta, where they were exposed to attacks by US drones.
The development reinforces suspicions that the ISI, which helped create the Taliban in the 1990s to expand Pakistani influence in Afghanistan, is working against US interests as the Obama administration prepares to send more US troops to that country, the newspaper said.
Bruce Riedel, a CIA veteran and analyst on Al Qaeda and the Taliban, confirmed that Mullah Omar had been spotted in Karachi recently.
"Some sources claim the ISI decided to move him further from the battlefield to keep him safe" from US drone attacks, said Riedel, who headed the Obama administration's review of policy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
"There are huge madrassas in Karachi where Mullah Omar could easily be kept."
A US counter-terrorism official said: "There are indications of some kind of bleed-out of Taliban types from Quetta to Karachi, but no one should assume at this point that the entire Afghan Taliban leadership has packed up its bags and headed for another Pakistani city."
A second senior intelligence officer who specialises in monitoring al-Qaeda said US intelligence had confirmed Mullah Omar's move through both electronic and human sources as well as intelligence from an unnamed allied service.
The official said that neither Osama bin Laden nor al-Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri has been spotted in Karachi.
The official said the top two Al Qaeda figures are still thought to be in the tribal region of Pakistan near Afghanistan's border.
But, the official said, other mid-level al-Qaeda operatives who facilitate the travel and training of foreign fighters had moved to the Karachi metropolitan area, which with 18 million people is Pakistan's most populous city.
Al-Qaeda has had a presence in Karachi since at least 2001.