Pakistani Taliban fighters secretly buried their leader early yesterday after he was killed by a US drone aircraft and quickly moved to replace him while vowing a wave of suicide bombs in revenge.
The Pakistani government denounced the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud as a US bid to derail planned peace talks and some politicians demanded that US military supply lines into Afghanistan be blocked in response.
Mehsud, who had a US$5 million US bounty on his head, and three others were killed on Friday in the militant stronghold of Miranshah in northwest Pakistan, Pakistani security officials and militants said.
Mehsud’s vehicle was hit after he attended a meeting of Taliban leaders, a Pakistani Taliban fighter said, adding Mehsud’s body was “damaged, but recognizable.”
His bodyguard and driver were also killed.
He was secretly buried under cover of darkness in the early hours by a few companions amid fears that his funeral might be attacked by US drones, militants and Pakistani security sources said.
“Every drop of Hakimullah’s blood will turn into a suicide bomber,” Pakistani Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq said. “America and their friends shouldn’t be happy because we will take revenge for our martyr’s blood.”
Mehsud took over as leader of the Pakistani Taliban in 2009. The group’s two previous leaders were killed in attacks by US missile-firing drones.
Taliban commanders voted to replace him with the movement’s No. 2, Khan Said, who is also known as Sajna.
Said is believed to have masterminded an attack on a jail in northwest Pakistan that freed nearly 400 prisoners last year and a big attack on a Pakistani naval base.
However, some commanders were unhappy with the choice and wanted more talks, several militants said, indicating divisions within the Pakistani Taliban, an umbrella group of factions allied with the Afghan Taliban and battling the Pakistani state in the hope of imposing Islamist rule.
They have killed thousands of Pakistani civilians and numerous members of the security forces. They claimed the killing of a Pakistani army general in September.
In Washington, two US officials also confirmed Mehsud’s death in a CIA drone strike. A White House spokeswoman said he was not in a position to confirm the report, but if true, it would be a serious loss for the Pakistani Taliban.
Despite his reputation as an uncompromising militant commander, Pakistan’s new government had promised to try to stop the violence through peace talks and it reacted angrily to Mehsud’s killing.
“The US has tried to attack the peace talks with this drone, but we will not let them fail,” Pakistani Minister of Information Pervez Rashid told media, referring to the negotiations, which the Taliban said on Friday had yet to start.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Provincial Government spokesman Shah Farman said provincial legislators would pass a resolution tomorrow to cut NATO supply lines into landlocked Afghanistan. A main one passes through the nearby Khyber Pass.
Residents of Miranshah, the capital of the North Waziristan region on the Afghan border, said Pakistani Taliban fighters were converging on the town and firing furiously at drones buzzing high in the sky.