Fri, Apr 30, 2010 - Page 5 News List

Taliban chief survived missile strike: officials

AP , ISLAMABAD

Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud is now believed to have survived a US missile strike earlier this year, but has lost clout within the militant network, a senior intelligence official said yesterday.

The revelation contradicts initial confidence among US and Pakistani intelligence officials that he had been killed in the January missile attack. The Taliban consistently denied Mehsud was killed, but declined to offer evidence, saying to do so would compromise his safety.

The latest independent investigations and reports from multiple sources in the field led Pakistani intelligence to conclude Mehsud had indeed survived, though with some slight injuries, the official said on condition of anonymity because of the topic’s sensitivity.

“It was just a miracle that only one person escaped that attack, and he was Hakimullah Mehsud,” he said. “Miracles do happen.”

Mehsud, however, had lost a good deal of power, and other Taliban commanders, such as Waliur Rehman, were overshadowing him.

Two other intelligence officials in the northwest said over the past several days that they had determined that Mehsud was alive. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media.

The Taliban have been known in the past to deny a militant leader had died even if he had. They waited for 18 days to confirm that Mehsud’s predecessor, Baitullah Mehsud, had been killed in an August strike as they squabbled over who would be his heir.

This time, however, the militants never changed their stance that Hakimullah Mehsud had survived, though they would not let any reporters interview him. There was never a martyrdom video or official announcement of his death posted on jihadi Web sites.

The Pakistani Taliban have been under assault by the army in their stronghold of South Waziristan. The group is behind numerous suicide and other attacks that have killed hundreds of Pakistanis.

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