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Conflicting Reports About Death Of Pak Taliban Chief Hakimullah

PTI 31 Jan 2010, 21:40:50 IST

Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud has succumbed to injuries sustained in a massive US drone attack earlier this month, the state-run television reported on Sunday in what could be a devastating blow to the militant outfit.

The 28-year-old Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan chief had died in the home of his father-in-law due to wounds sustained in a drone strike on January 14, PTV quoted local sources in Aurakzai tribal region as saying.  The channel also reported that Mehsud was buried in Mamoonzai area of Aurakzai Agency. 

However, Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters that the government had "no verifiable information" to confirm Mehsud's death.  The Inter-Services Public Relations too said there was no confirmation of the militant commander's death. 

The Taliban have denied the reports and said Mehsud was at an undisclosed location.  If reports of Mehsud's death is true, it will be a major blow to the militant outfit that is yet to come to terms with the death of its former leader Baitullah Mehsud in a similar drone attack in August last year.

Reports have been doing the rounds, particularly in Pakistan's tribal belt, over the past few days that Mehsud was seriously injured in a US drone attack in Shaktoi area of North Waziristan on January 14 that killed at least 15 militants.Mehsud, who carries a bounty of USD 590,000 on his head, took over leadership of the Pakistani Taliban soon after Baitullah Mehsud's death in August.

He has focused most of his attacks against targets inside Pakistan, but the outfit has also been blamed for attacking US and NATO supply convoys travelling through the country.  Mehsud had taken responsibility for a wave of brazen strikes inside Pakistan, including the bombing of the Pearl Continental hotel in the northwestern city of Peshawar last June and the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore March that year. 

Malik said: "The local population and tribal elders are saying Mehsud is dead. We have no verifiable information to confirm he is dead. I am unable to officially confirm unless I have some verifiable information."  He said operations by the army had broken the back of the Taliban, "hurt their capacity" and "destroyed their system and centres where they trained suicide bombers."  The army had also destroyed Taliban bases and ammunition depots, he said.  "If Mehsud is dead, it is a setback (for the Taliban). There are still pockets of Taliban who are reacting, like the suicide attack in Bajaur Agency (yesterday)," Malik said. 

Malik said the security forces had improved the gathering of real-time intelligence and were now capable of handling any retaliation by the militants.  Though the Taliban had approached the government several times for talks, the administration had "no intention to hold a dialogue with them unless they lay down weapons," he said.  "It has been our condition from day one   lay down your weapons and then hold talks. This is our firm resolve and wherever the writ of the government is challenged, we will take action against them. We have to free Pakistan of this cancer and we will remove it by the roots," Malik said. PTI