Sat, Aug 08, 2009 - Page 1 News List

Pakistan’s Taliban chief allegedly killed

DPA , ISLAMABAD

Baitullah Mehsud, the chief of the Pakistani Taliban, has been killed, a close aide to the militant leader said yesterday.

As the news of his death spread, a group of Mehsud’s loyalists attacked the office of his rival and pro-government warlord Turkistan Bittani and killed eight of his men.

Mehsud died with his wife on Wednesday in northwestern Pakistan in a suspected US missile attack that also killed half a dozen of his guards in the tribal district of South Waziristan, said his aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

His funeral was held on Wednesday afternoon and his body was later buried in his native Nardosai Village.

“Right now, a meeting of our shurah [an advisory council of Mehsud’s group], is being held in Sararogha to choose his successor,” the aide said.

The Taliban were expected to officially announce Mehsud’s death later yesterday together with his successor. Among those under consideration are his spokesman Hakimullah Mehsud, Azmatullah, a regional commander in South Waziristan and Wali-ur-Rehman, Baitullah’s first cousin and deputy.

Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters in Islamabad that initial reports said Mehsud had been killed with his wife and seven bodyguards.

“But we do not have any ­confirmatory evidence that he is dead. Yes, lot of information is pouring in from that area that he is dead, but I am unable to confirm unless I have solid evidence,” he said.

Malik said: “I warn his supporters to leave the path of [militancy] and serve Islam and Pakistan in real terms.”

The foreign minister cited intelligence reports as confirming Mehsud’s death, but said authorities were yet to receive “ground verification.”

“Once the ground verification reconfirms, which I think is almost certain, then we will be 100 percent sure,” Shah Mahmood Qureshi said.

Two intelligence officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said they had talked to those who attended Mehsud’s funeral on Wednesday.

Geo TV quoted the office of the political agent, who is the top government official in a tribal district, in South Waziristan as saying that “Baitullah Mehsud has died and we have dispatched the report to interior ministry.”

The missile strike, believed to have been carried out by a US unmanned aircraft, struck the house of one of Mehsud’s two fathers-in-law in South Waziristan, a tribal region near the Afghan border and a known hub of al-Qaeda and Taliban militants.

The strike came as Pakistani security forces were gearing up for a major offensive against Mehsud, who is blamed for dozens of terrorist attacks and had been declared as Pakistan’s enemy No. 1.

He is also alleged to have ordered the assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who died in a gun-and-­suicide attack during an election rally in December 2007. Mehsud denied the accusation.

Malik said the “targeted operation” in South Waziristan would continue until “Baitullah Mehsud’s group is eliminated for good.”

Mehsud’s main rival in South Waziristan, Bittani, has assisted the government by providing information about his network.

In what appeared to be a revenge attack, a group of Taliban militants raided Bittani’s office and killed eight of his fighters in Tank, a small town which serves as a gateway to South Waziristan, on Friday morning.

Four more were injured in an hour-long battle that also left 10 of Mehsud’s people dead.

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