Saturday, August 8, 2009

Baitullah Mehsud is dead

* Foreign minister says govt pursuing ground verification
* Interior minister says operation will continue until Mehsud’s group is eliminated
* TTP deputy chief says he can neither confirm, nor deny Baitullah’s death * Hakeemullah Mehsud, Waliur Rehman Mehsud, Azmatullah in close race to emerge as new TTP chief

ISLAMABAD: Quoting intelligence reports on Friday, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi confirmed that Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a US drone attack in South Waziristan.

“Based on information gleaned from intelligence reports, the news of Baitullah’s death is correct. But we are going for ground verification, and when the information has been confirmed, then we will be 100 percent sure,” he told reporters at a local hotel after addressing the Youth Parliament. He also told BBC Radio that it was “pretty certain” that the Taliban chief was dead, Reuters reported. A Taliban commander and aide to Baitullah Mehsud, meanwhile, told the Associated Press that the TTP chief was killed in the US strike. “I confirm that Baitullah Mehsud and his wife died in the American missile attack in South Waziristan,” Taliban commander Kafayatullah said by telephone. He would not give any further details.

No end in sight: Mehsud was allegedly killed in a drone attack on Wednesday while visiting his father-in-law Maulana Ikramuddin’s house. The attack also resulted in the deaths of one of his wives, Ikramuddin’s daughter, and over half-a-dozen guards. “Information is coming from that area that he is dead,” said Interior Minister Rehman Malik. “I am unable to confirm unless I have solid evidence,” he said. He said the military was determined to finish off the Taliban in Pakistan. “It is a targeted law enforcement action against Baitullah Mehsud’s group and it will continue until Baitullah Mehsud’s group is eliminated forever,” he said.

He urged the Taliban to lay down their arms and urged them to come into the mainstream, saying the new TTP chief would face the same fate as Baitullah. He said the TTP is a banned outfit and there was no possibility of talks with them, the Online news agency reported.

No confirmation: TTP deputy chief Maulvi Faqir Muhammad, meanwhile, told Daily Times he could neither confirm nor deny Baitullah’s killing in the drone attack. “Baitullah Mehsud was killed in the drone attack,” Ikramuddin’s neighbours told Daily Times. Military and intelligence sources told Daily Times the best confirmation would be from the Taliban. “To be frank, the Taliban themselves can confirm their leader’s death. Otherwise, the lack of a proper government in the area prevents us from taking definitive action,” the intelligence officials added.

However, an intelligence officer in South Waziristan told Reuters that Mehsud’s funeral had already taken place. “He was killed with his wife and he was buried in Nargosey,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Online news agency quoted a private TV channel as reporting that the government could make the official announcement with regard to Baitullah’s death within the coming week. It said the Interior Ministry had received a fax from South Waziristan Political Agent Syed Shahab Ali Shah confirming Baitullah’s death.

New TTP chief: Meanwhile, intelligence officials and Taliban sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, have said that Taliban commanders were meeting in the Tribal Areas on Friday to choose a successor. It was unclear when they might reach a decision.

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

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