Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour has been wounded in Pakistan in a shoot-out between senior members of the Islamist movement, Taliban sources said on Wednesday, while the group's main spokesman denied it.
Mansour, whose authority is disputed by rival factions in the Islamist movement, was wounded when fighting broke out over strategic issues in the house of a senior Taliban leader called Mullah Abdullah Sarhadi, two senior Taliban members said.
"During the discussion, some senior people developed differences and they opened fire at each other," a senior Taliban commander said.
He said five senior Taliban members died on the spot and over a dozen including Mullah Mansour suffered serious bullet injuries.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied the incident took place. "This is a rumour which is completely baseless. Akthar Mohammad Mansour is totally fine and nothing has happened to him," he told Reuters.
The conflicting reports add to the confusion surrounding the leadership of the Taliban, which has split into hostile factions since it was confirmed in July that its founder Mullah Mohammad Omar had died two years earlier.
Mansour, Mullah Omar's longtime deputy, was named as leader but his claim was quickly rejected by some sections of the Islamist group, who accused him of covering up Omar's death and said that his appointment was steered by Pakistan.
His grip on the leadership appeared to have been tightened by the capture of the northern city of Kunduz in late September, which insurgents held for several days before government forces could regain control.
But the depth of the split has been underlined by days of bitter fighting in the southeastern province of Zabul last month in which scores of people were killed.
According to some officials in the Kabul government, Mullah Mansoor Dadullah, a senior commander in the group that opposes Mansour, was killed in last month's fighting, although the claim has been denied by a spokesman for his faction.