Friday, August 07, 2009

Pakistani Taliban leader 'killed' !

Baitullah Mehsud (2005)
Baitullah Mehsud has a $5m US reward on his head

There are growing indications that Pakistan's most wanted man, Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, has been killed by a US missile.

A Mehsud aide reportedly confirmed that he had died when a drone attacked the house where he was staying.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Quresh said the government was seeking "ground verification".

Taliban leaders have gathered in South Waziristan to choose a successor, local sources have told the BBC.

ANALYSIS
Orla Guerin, BBC News, Islamabad
Orla Guerin, BBC News, Islamabad

Mehsud's death would be seen in Pakistan as a huge step forward.

He has been the country's most wanted man, blamed for a string of suicide attacks and also accused of being behind the assassination of the former Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto. He has also been on America's wanted list, with a price of $5m on his head. He is seen there as an al-Qaeda facilitator.

In the past month or so, both the Pakistanis and Americans have been working hard to tighten the net around him, with US drone strikes but also with air strikes by the Pakistani authorities.

If reports of his death are confirmed, this will be seen here as the elimination of a key enemy of this country and of a man who has caused the killing of hundreds of civilians.

Three names are under consideration says Abdul Hai Kakar, a BBC reporter based in Peshawar.

Hakimullah Mehsud, Maulana Azmatullah and Wali-ur-Rehman were all mentioned as possible successors.

People living close to the scene of the missile attack in South Waziristan told the BBC Baitullah Mehsud had been killed along with his wife early on Wednesday.

The remoteness of the location is contributing to the delay in establishing the facts, the BBC's Orla Guerin reports from Islamabad.

A US official said there was "reason to believe reports of his death may be true but it cannot be confirmed".

Previous reports of Baitullah Mehsud's death have proved to be unfounded.

South Waziristan is a stronghold of the Taliban chief, who has been blamed by Pakistan for a series of suicide bomb attacks in the country.

Kafayat Ullah, described as an aide to Baitullah Mehsud, told the Associated Press by telephone on Friday that his leader had been killed along with his second wife by a US missile. He gave no further details.

Baitullah Mehsud at a news conference in  South Waziristan, 24 May 2008
There is a sense of awe as this short, plump, bearded man greets us
Syed Shoaib Hasan
BBC reporter on meeting
Baitullah Meshud in 2008

The missile fired by the US drone hit the home of the Taliban chief's father-in-law, Malik Ikramuddin, in the Zangarha area, 15km (9 miles) north-east of Ladha, at around 0100 on Wednesday (1900 GMT Tuesday).

At the time of the attack, the Taliban leader was said to be on the roof, suffering from an illness for which he was taking medication, local people told our Peshawar reporter.

Some who had reportedly seen his body said that it had been half-destroyed by the blast.

Baitullah Mehsud was buried in the nearby village of Nardusai, the witnesses told our reporter.

Several of Baitullah Mehsud's relatives were also injured, local people told the BBC earlier.

Pakistan's foreign minister told reporters in Islamabad that "to be 100% sure [of the Taliban leader's death], we are going for ground verification".

One factor complicating verification of his death is the lack of photographs of the Taliban leader.

Pakistan's foreign minister: "We are going for ground verification"

When the BBC's Syed Shoaib Hasan went to interview him in South Waziristan in May 2008, he found himself sitting down before a short, plump, bearded man, reluctant to allow his picture to be taken.

Pakistan's interior minister, Rehman Malik, told the BBC that even if DNA could be recovered at the scene, the authorities did not have a sample from a male relative of the Taliban leader to compare it with.

BBC NEWS REPORT.

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