Pak Taliban leader Mehsud is dead

DERA ISMAIL KHAN: Pakistan’s Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, who led a violent campaign of suicide attacks and assassinations against the Pakistani government, has been killed in a US missile strike, a militant commander and aide to Mehsud said today.

Taliban commanders were meeting to decide on his successor, intelligence and militant sources said.

Earlier, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said intelligence showed Mehsud had been killed in Wednesday’s missile strike on his father-in-law’s house in Pakistan’s lawless tribal area, but authorities would travel to the site to verify his death.

Pakistani and US intelligence officials said the CIA was behind the strike. All spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

“I confirm that Baitullah Mehsud and his wife died in the American missile attack in South Waziristan,” Taliban commander Kafayat Ullah told The Associated Press by telephone. He would not give any further details.

Mehsud’s demise would be a major boost to Pakistani and US efforts to eradicate the Taliban and al-Qaida, but would not necessarily deal a definitive blow to the Taliban in Pakistan. Mehsud has deputies who could step into his place. Pakistani intelligence officials and Taliban sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Taliban commanders were meeting in the lawless tribal areas today to choose a replacement. It was unclear when they might reach a decision.

Three Pakistani intelligence officials said the likeliest successor was Mehsud’s deputy, Hakim Ullah, a commander known for recruiting and training suicide bombers. Two other prominent possibilities, the officials said, were Azmat Ullah and Waliur Rehman, also close associates of Mehsud.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity.

Whether a new leader could wreak as much havoc as Mehsud depends largely on how much pressure the Pakistani military continues to put on the network, especially in South Waziristan in Pakistan’s tribal belt.