Afghanistan’s supreme leader appeared publicly for only the second time in six years on Sunday, telling worshippers celebrating Eid al-Fitr the Taliban had achieved freedom and security since seizing power last year. Speaking just two days after a bomb ripped through a mosque in Kabul, an atmosphere of heightened security surrounded the man introduced as Hibatullah Akhundzada, the chief of the Taliban. “Congratulations on victory, freedom and success,” he told thousands of worshippers at the Eidgah mosque in the southern city of Kandahar, the hardline Islamist group’s de facto power centre. “Congratulations on this security and for the Islamic system.” While the number of bombings across the country has dropped since Kabul fell to the Taliban last August, attacks soared over the final two weeks of the fasting month of Ramadan, which ended Saturday for Afghans. Dozens of civilians have been killed in the primarily sectarian attacks — some claimed by the Islamic State group — targeting members of the Shiite and Sufi Muslim communities. Friday’s bombing of a Sunni mosque in the capital killed at least 10 people. Akhundzada delivered his brief address from one of the front rows of worshippers in Kandahar without turning to face the crowd, according to social media posts. Taliban officials did not allow journalists to approach him, while two helicopters hovered over the mosque for the whole of the two-hour event. Dozens of Taliban fighters were deployed where Akhundzada and other Taliban leaders were sitting and they stopped worshippers from taking their pictures on cellphones. An AFP correspondent who reported from the mosque confirmed that the voice said to be Akhundzada’s came from the front rows of worshippers. – A reclusive figure – It was Akhundzada’s second known public appearance since taking control of the Taliban in 2016. When the man introduced as the Taliban leader began to speak, worshippers chanted “Allahu Akbar! Long live Islamic Emirate and Long Live Akhundzada!” Worshipper Aziz Ahmad Ahmadi said he was overwhelmed. “I cried when I heard the voice of Sheikh Saheb (Akhundzada)… to hear him is like achieving my biggest dream,” he said, but added he had failed to spot the leader among the crowd. Another Kandahar resident Bismillah, who attended the Eid prayers at the Eidgah mosque, said, “I’m so happy that I can’t even describe it”.