Militant’s death in Pakistan confirmed
US strike killed Taliban leader
DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan - Pakistani Taliban commanders acknowledged yesterday that the militants’ top leader, Baitullah Mehsud, was dead, ending weeks of claims and counterclaims over his fate following a US missile strike on his father-in-law’s home this month.
Hakimullah Mehsud and Waliur Rehman, two of Mehsud’s top aides and reportedly rivals to succeed him, together called the Associated Press to say that their leader had died Sunday of injuries from the Aug. 5 strike in South Waziristan, near the Afghan border.
“He was wounded. He got the wounds in a drone strike, and he was martyred two days ago,’’ Hakimullah Mehsud said. Rehman repeated the same information.
The Taliban had insisted for weeks that Baitullah Mehsud was still alive following the missile strike, while US and Pakistani officials said he was almost certainly dead and a leadership struggle had ensued.
Hakimullah Mehsud and Rehman denied the reports of infighting in their call yesterday to the AP, repeating an earlier Taliban announcement that Hakimullah Mehsud now leads the Pakistani Taliban and adding that Rehman would head the Al Qaeda-linked movement’s wing in South Waziristan.
The loss of Baitullah Mehsud - Pakistan’s most-wanted militant - is a significant blow to the Taliban. His Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or Pakistani Taliban Movement, had provided a degree of unity among regional and tribal factions, and posed a growing threat to the Pakistani government.
Baitullah Mehsud was suspected in dozens of suicide bombings and other assaults, including the 2007 assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister.