Washington (AFP) Oct 3, 2009
Newly anointed Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud may have been killed recently during clashes with a rival faction, a senior US counterterrorism official said Saturday.
"There's reason to believe that Hakimullah may have died recently -- perhaps as the result of factional in-fighting within the Pakistani Taliban," the official told AFP.
US and Pakistani officials are reviewing information about the alleged incident and have yet to confirm the death. The Pentagon declined to comment.
If confirmed, the warlord's demise would be the latest setback to the Pakistani Taliban, which have carved out camps in the mountains of Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal belt.
"Of course, it would be a very good thing if Hakimullah were off the streets," noted the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the intelligence matter.
"We're working hard -- as are the Pakistanis -- to determine what has happened to him."
Washington says the militants are plotting attacks on the West and slipping over the border to target foreign troops in Afghanistan.
Hakimullah, who is believed to be about 30, was tapped to lead the feared Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) after his predecessor, Baitullah Mehsud, was killed by a missile fired from a CIA-operated drone aircraft on August 5.
Hakimullah's brother, Kalimullah Mehsud, was also killed on Monday in a battle in the lawless insurgent stronghold of North Waziristan, which borders Afghanistan, Pakistani security officials said.
The young commander, who did not make media or public appearances since his appointment, has two surviving brothers.
Pakistan's government blames the TTP -- formed by Baitullah Mehsud in late 2007 -- for most of about 270 attacks and suicide bombings that have killed more than 2,100 people across Pakistan in the past two years.
Pakistani security forces earlier this year launched a fierce offensive to purge the northwest of Taliban fighters, and has already claimed success in the Swat valley and Bajaur. But unrest has rumbled on.
Analysts say they will face a much tougher task in North and South Waziristan, which are teeming with both Pakistani Taliban and other Islamist militants who fled Afghanistan after the US-led invasion toppled the Taliban there in 2001.
Meanwhile, Washington has stepped up missile attacks by US drone aircraft in the region.
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