Hakimullah Says, He Is Alive And Well
Pakistan's Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud released a new audio recording in Peshawar on Saturday, saying he was alive and well after a US drone missile attack was said to have killed him.
The recording comes a day after the Taliban released a similar audio file in which Mehsud said he was alive but did not mention the specific strike on Thursday that triggered rumours of his death.
"After the audio I released yesterday, some people speculated and said that I did not mention the date," Mehsud said.
"Today, on the 16th of January I am saying it again -- I am alive, I am OK, I am not injured... when the drone strike took place, I was not present in the area at that time."
The Pakistani Taliban released an audio recording allegedly made Friday of Hakimullah Mehsud denying he had been killed in a US bombing raid as the military investigated the reports.
Reporters familiar with Mehsud said the voice appeared to be his, but there was no mention of dates or the bombing alleged to have killed him, making it impossible to confirm if it was recorded before or after Thursday's strike.
"Sometimes they (the government) launch propaganda about my martyrdom through media and sometimes they say that the operation has been completed in South Waziristan. This can never happen," Mehsud said.
He was referring to military operations against Taliban strongholds launched last year in the tribal district of South Waziristan.
"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," military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told a foreign news agency."Intelligence agencies are at their work, they are trying to probe and find out from their sources."
The TTP has already issued a number of statements denying Mehsud's death, and on Friday militant spokesman Azam Tariq said his boss had left the Shaktoi area pounded by the missiles "40 to 60 minutes" before the strike.
"Hakimullah is alive and safe. I met with him last night, there was not even a scratch on him," Tariq told the agency by telephone.
Amid continuing drone strikes Friday, at least five militants were killed at 19:45 pm (1445 GMT) in Zanini village near the town of Mir Ali, about 30 kilometres (18 miles) east of Miranshah, the main town of restive North Waziristan tribal district.
"US drones fired four missiles at a militant compound and at least five militants were killed," a senior security official told the news agency on condition of anonymity.
Less than two hours later, a second drone strike at Bichi village killed another six militants, according to a senior security official.
More than 700 people have been killed in around 80 US drone strikes since August 2008, with a surge in 2009 under US President Barack Obama. Nine drone strikes have hit the tribal northwest this month alone.
The bombings fuel anti-American sentiment in Muslim Pakistan, and the TTP repeatedly vow to avenge the raids.
In Kabul, Richard Holbrooke, Washington's special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, said he could not confirm if Hakimullah Mehsud was among those killed in Thursday's raid in Pakistan's lawless northwest tribal belt.
"I've heard every conceivable version of what has happened and I don't know," said Holbrooke. "If he is still alive he is one of the worst people on earth, one of the most vicious," Holbrooke told reporters in Kabul.
"I don't know what his status is, we've heard all the rumours and we're just going to sit back and let it develop. But I do want to stress how strongly we feel about this man and this group," he said.