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Taliban Leader Possibly Dead in Pakistan

Friday, 15 Jan 2010 10:41 AM

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan's military is investigating reports that Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud was killed in a US bombing raid, the army spokesman said Friday, as the militant group insisted he was alive and well.

Missiles fired from an unmanned US aircraft killed at least 15 Islamist insurgents at a training camp in the lawless northwest tribal belt Thursday, and security officials said Mehsud may have been among the dead.

"So far we do not have confirmation of him either getting killed or getting injured. It will take a little more time to confirm this or otherwise," chief military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told AFP.

"Intelligence agencies are at their work, they are trying to probe and find out from their sources."

The US strike hit in a remote and mountainous area between the districts of North and South Waziristan, and Abbas said issues of access in the Taliban-controlled area were one hurdle in obtaining information.

"We only have the information that there was a strike and there was the presence of militants in the compound, but whether the leadership was there or not is yet to be confirmed," he added.

As reports emerged Thursday of Mehsud's possible demise in the strike, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) group he commands swiftly put out a statement saying he was alive, and on Friday repeated their claims.

"Hakimullah is alive and safe. I met with him last night, there was not even a scratch on him," TTP spokesman Azam Tariq told AFP by telephone.

"He left the place (of the strike) 40 or 60 minutes beforehand," he said, referring to the remote Shaktoi area pounded by the missiles.

Tariq said a meeting of Taliban elders would be convened soon to decide whether to release a new video of Mehsud proving their claims.

Conflicting reports emerged from intelligence agents and security officials in the northwest on Friday, with some saying Mehsud was injured, while others said the TTP chief and some of his top commanders were likely killed.

Hakimullah Mehsud assumed leadership of the group blamed for the deaths of thousands of people in attacks in Pakistan after his predecessor, Baitullah Mehsud, was killed in a US drone strike in August last year.

The TTP denied Baitullah Mehsud's death for weeks, apparently amid fierce infighting over his successor.

More than 700 people have been killed in about 77 US drone strikes since August 2008, with a surge in 2009 under the presidency of Barack Obama. Seven drone strikes have hit the tribal northwest this month alone. Facts about US military robots

The bombings fuel anti-American sentiment in Muslim Pakistan, and the TTP vowed to avenge the raids.

"Pakistan is helping America in drone strikes. We will take revenge for all these strikes by attacking Pakistani forces inside Pakistan and American forces in Afghanistan," Tariq said.

With Washington pressing Islamabad to tackle militants who use its soil to launch attacks in neighbouring Afghanistan, Pakistan's armed forces last year carried out multiple assaults on TTP strongholds across the tribal belt.

"It has made a huge impact on the organisation and their capability of striking back," said Abbas. "The leadership is on the run and in hiding."

Despite the offensives, attacks blamed on the TTP show no sign of abating, with bombings increasingly hitting civilians in Pakistan.

On January 9, Hakimullah Mehsud appeared in a video clip alongside a Jordanian who blew himself up on a US military base in Afghanistan last month, killing seven CIA agents and his Jordanian handler.

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistan's military is investigating reports that Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud was killed in a US bombing raid, the army spokesman said Friday, as the militant group insisted he was alive and well.
Pakistan,Taliban,leader,dead
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2010-41-15
Friday, 15 Jan 2010 10:41 AM
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