The Pakistani Taliban said on Saturday it had shot dead a retired Pakistani spy who once mentored its Afghan brethren and sided with the US against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
The claim contradicted Pakistani government assertions last month that the ex-spy, Sultan Amir Tarar, died of a heart attack while being held captive by militants in northwest Pakistan. If true, the killing of a man who openly sympathized with Islamist extremists would also underscore the degree to which Pakistani Taliban groups are willing to take on the state.
“We have killed him. We shot him,” Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan told a reporter via telephone from an undisclosed location.
Tarar — better known as Colonel Imam — once trained at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and gave personal tours of the Pakistan--Afghanistan border region to US congressmen interested in supporting Afghan militiamen fighting Soviet occupation in the 1980s.
After the Soviets withdrew in 1989, he became Pakistan’s point man with the Afghan Taliban, then seen by Islamabad as allies. He provided the movement with arms and money and was known to be close to Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar.
He remained publicly sympathetic to the Afghan Taliban since the movement’s downfall in 2001 in the US-led invasion, but denied any operational ties.
He and another former spy, Khalid Khawaja, accompanied a British TV journalist to Pakistan’s northwest early last year.
The region is now home to militants battling the Pakistani state, including its intelligence agencies, and al-Qaeda leaders also hostile to the pro-US regime in Pakistan. Afghan Taliban factions fighting in Afghanistan that do not directly target the Pakistani state are also based there.
Tarar and Khawaja may have felt their sympathies with militant groups would shield them from any danger, but all three were kidnapped in March. Khawaja was later killed, while the journalist was set free.
A previously unknown militant group calling itself the Asian Tigers initially said it had seized the men, but in July, Tarar appeared in a video saying he was being held by another group and that it was demanding the release of prisoners held by the government in exchange for his release.
Tarar was believed held in North Waziristan, a region bordering Afghanistan that is under effective militant control. The leadership of the Pakistani Taliban is believed to be in the area, where it faces less pressure than in its long-time base of South Waziristan, where the army has waged an offensive.
Ahsan said on Saturday that the Pakistani Taliban shot Tarar after the government failed to meet unspecified demands by the group.
“We repeatedly tried to -convince the government. It did not listen to our demands. As a result, we killed him,” he said.
Geo TV, a private channel in Pakistan, briefly aired parts of what is said was a video showing Tarar being shot. The clips included footage of Hakimullah Mehsud, the Pakistani Taliban chief.
However, the channel did not show the actual shooting on Saturday, saying it was too graphic to air, and the authenticity of the footage could not immediately be independently verified.