Do these photos prove the Taliban's spokesman led a double life?

Social networks users inside and outside Afghanistan have been sharing photomontages that claim to show Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid lived a “double life” that was at odds with his status as a mullah in the fiercely pious Islamist movement. The posts show photographs of the spokesman wearing the black turban favoured by many Taliban leaders, along with photos of three similar-looking men with their heads uncovered, in one case accompanied by a woman whose head is also uncovered.

The posts have captions saying Mujahid lived a double life, including a stay in the UK. But the photos of the other men are not Mujahid, and there is no evidence he has ever lived outside the region.

The war on the ground has mostly ended in Afghanistan but it continues on social media. While critics of the Taliban have been posting videos of their mujahideen harassing and arresting people that appear to be authentic, they have also been posting false posts apparently designed to mock Afghanistan’s new rulers.

Among those are posts targeting Mujahid, the group’s longtime spokesman, who has been appearing prominently in public since August 17, after years when his face was never seen. The posts are circulating widely on Telegram and other messaging apps in Afghanistan.

One post features Pakistani actor at a birthday party

One of the most-shared posts features an authentic photo of Mujahid in his black turban along with photographs of two other men, one posing with a woman whose head is also uncovered – a major offense under the Taliban’s austere interpretation of Islam. The post, being shared on Facebook and other platforms, includes a caption saying: “Zabihullah is a pseudonym. His real name is Abdulghaffar. He used to live in London, and then later in the home of [former Afghan President Hamid] Karzai.”

But a reverse image search shows that the man in the Western-style black suit posing with the woman is not Mujahid. He is a Pakistani TV and film actor named Yasir Nawaz, posing with fellow actor Javeria Saud at a birthday party in January 2021.

Another post shows an Indian TikToker

Another version of the photomontage shows Mujahid with a photo of a man holding a blue towel. The man with the towel is in fact Amir Jutt, an Indian TikTok star, who has posted a humorous reaction on his account.

The mysterious third man

The posts also contain photographs of a third man, with short hair in a hooded jacket sitting in a coffee bar. The FRANCE 24 Observers team was not able to identify this man. However, comparison of his face with an authentic photograph of Mujahid using two different facial recognition tools, Betaface and Microsoft's Azure, gave the same result: he is not Mujahid.

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