Pakistani Taliban leader possibly killed in U.S. drone strike

January 16th, 2012 - 11:52 pm ICT by BNO News  

PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN (BNO NEWS) — The top leader of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which is better known as the Pakistani Taliban, is believed to have been killed in a U.S. drone strike last week, intelligence officials said on Monday.

Pakistani intelligence officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said they intercepted radio conversations between suspected Taliban militants as they discussed whether their leader Hakimullah Mehsud had been killed following a U.S. drone strike. Some militants were believed to have said that Mehsud was confirmed to have been killed.

But Taliban spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsanhave firmly denied the reports, saying that Mehsud was not in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan on Thursday, where a U.S. drone targeted a vehicle carrying suspected militants. Earlier reports said at least six people had been killed, while two others were injured.

However, on previous occasions, Taliban spokespersons have given false and misleading information to the media. In May 2011, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces in the Pakistani city of Abbotabad. The Pakistani Taliban initially rejected the reports, but al-Qaeda later confirmed that Bin Laden had been killed.

Since August 2009, Mehsud has served as the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, which has been behind numerous terrorist attacks in Pakistan. The group draws ideological guidance from al-Qaeda while al-Qaeda is believed to rely on the Pakistani Taliban for safe haven in the Pashtun areas along the Afghan-Pakistani border.

The mutual cooperation between two of the most prominent terrorist organizations in the world gives the Pakistani group access to both al-Qaeda’s global terrorist network and the operational experience of its members. The Pakistani Taliban is suspected of being involved in the 2007 assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and the attempted bombing in Times Square in May 2010.

Thursday’s airstrike in North Waziristan came only two days after U.S. drones resumed their controversial attacks in Pakistan following a break of more than six weeks. Four suspected militants were killed on Tuesday last week when a U.S. drone carried out an airstrike, also in North Waziristan.

The U.S. temporarily halted its drone attacks in Pakistan in late November after NATO helicopters crossed the border from Afghanistan and carried out several airstrikes in the Mohmand Agency of Pakistan’s tribal areas, accidentally killing 24 Pakistani troops. The strike infuriated the Pakistani government and triggered widespread anti-U.S. demonstrations.

Prior to Tuesday’s airstrike, the last time a U.S. drone launched an attack within Pakistan was on November 17 when sixteen suspected militants were killed, including at least two members of the Pakistani Taliban.

In 2011, at least 609 people were killed as a result of 75 drone strikes in Pakistan, according to a report released by the Conflict Monitoring Center. In total, the group has documented 303 drone strikes since 2004, with a total death toll of at least 2,661.

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