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Is Baitullah Mehsud really dead...?

Discussion in 'International Forum' started by Kwetunikwetu, Aug 7, 2009.

  1. Kwetunikwetu

    Kwetunikwetu JF-Expert Member

    Aug 7, 2009
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    Baitullah Mehsud, the al-Qaeda-allied Taliban commander who rose to become one of Pakistan's most feared terrorists, was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Pakistan this week, Pakistani officials and Taliban members said Friday.

    If confirmed by investigation at the scene, the death would represent a major blow to the Islamist militia's violent agenda in the country and a significant victory for Pakistani and U.S. efforts to combat the Taliban, authorities said.

    "Baitullah is no more with us," said a Taliban fighter reached by telephone on Friday.

    The fighter said that Mehud, whose thousands of followers work alongside al-Qaeda in the mountainous region of western Pakistan along the Afghan border, sought refuge in his father-in-law's house in the village of Zangara, in the district of South Waziristan, because he was suffering from health problems.

    Taliban leaders in the area have now convened a meeting to name his successor and to map out how to move forward following Mehsud's death, the fighter said.

    Pakistan's foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, said the government has received intelligence confirming Mehsud's death but that authorities are moving into South Waziristan to try to get first-hand verification of the reports.

    "The government wants to be 100 percent sure, and that is why we are going for verification on the ground," Qureshi told reporters in Islamabad on Friday.

    Another top government official, Interior Minister Rehman Malik, said that "lots of intelligence information is pouring in from Waziristan" indicating that Mehsud, along with his wife and seven guards, were killed in Wednesday's airstrike.

    "These intelligence reports and some evidence suggest that Baitullah has been eliminated, but the government is investigating further before any formal announcement," Malik told reporters.

    Hours after reports of Mehsud's death began to circulate in Pakistan, U.S. counterterrorism officials said they were evaluating evidence that appeared to support the claims.

    "There is reason to believe that reports of his death may be true, but it can't be confirmed at this time," said one U.S. official briefed on the evidence.

    Mehsud was apparently the intended target of a missile strike early Wednesday on a house in northwestern Pakistan occupied by several of the Taliban commander's relatives and his parents-in-law. News reports from Pakistan said four people were killed, including one of Mehsud's wives.

    The CIA declines to comment on its operations inside Pakistan, although the spy agency is known to have been behind dozens of missile strikes in the autonomous tribal region near the border with Afghanistan in the past year. Neither the agency nor other U.S. counterterrorism officials would elaborate Thursday on where and how Mehsud may have been killed.

    Until this week, Mehsud -- considered Public Enemy No. 1 in Pakistan because of alleged ties to numerous deadly terrorist attacks -- had been noted for his many narrow escapes. He appears to have been the target of at least three strikes by CIA Predator unmanned aircraft in the past two years, including an attack on a Taliban funeral in June that killed dozens of insurgents in South Waziristan. Mehsud left the area shortly before the missile was launched, according to Pakistani officials and local media reports.

    "Taking Mehsud off the battlefield would be a major victory," a U.S. counterterrorism official said Thursday. "He has actively plotted against the United States. Indeed, he has American blood on his hands with attacks on our forces in Afghanistan. The world, and certainly Pakistan, would be a safer place without him."

    In March, the U.S. State Department announced a reward of up to $5 million for Mehsud's death or capture.

    Mehsud has been the leader since 2007 of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, a coalition of Taliban factions loyal to Afghanistan's Taliban leader, Mohammad Omar. An ally of al-Qaeda, Mehsud commands as many as 20,000 fighters in Pakistan's rugged northwestern frontier region and has directed or supported numerous suicide bombings in Pakistan, including a deadly attack last year on the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, U.S. intelligence officials said.

    The Pakistani government and the CIA have identified Mehsud as the chief suspect in the assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who was killed in 2007 while campaigning for office. Mehsud has denied responsibility for her death.

    Wednesday's missile strike occurred about 1 a.m. in the village in South Waziristan. Local residents told government officials and reporters that the missile was fired by a remotely piloted aircraft similar to the ones used in the region by the CIA.

    In addition to the reported deaths, at least five people were wounded in the attack, including four children, according to local news media accounts.

    Partlow reported from Kabul. Khan reported from Islamabad. Staff writer William Branigin and staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.


    American and Pakistani officials say it looked more and more likely that Baitullah Mehsud, who had a $5 million bounty on his head, was dead. Pakistan's Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, told reporters in Islamabad on Friday Aug. 7 that, "According to my intelligence information, the news is correct. We are trying to get on-the-ground verification to be 100% sure. But according to my information, he has been taken out." Local Pakistani media, citing "tribal sources" in South Waziristan, are reporting that Mehsud's funeral prayers had been held and that the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan's shura, or council, was meeting today to choose Mehsud's successor.
    It may be days, or weeks, before confirmation is obtained. Hellfire strikes often obliterate targets, leaving little for investigators to work with. Pakistani officials are reportedly trying to collect material evidence, but U.S. intelligence officials will also be paying close attention to chatter on the Taliban's communication channels. "Taking Mehsud off the battlefield would be a major victory," says a U.S. counterterrorism official. "He has American blood on his hands with attacks on our forces in Afghanistan. This would also affirm the effectiveness of our government's counterterrorism policies."
    (Read "Pakistan Takes On Taliban Leader Mehsud.")

    If confirmed, Mehsud's death would bring to a dramatic end a short but terrifying career. Over the past two years, Mehsud, who is believed to be about 35, emerged from near obscurity to claim a place in a hall of infamy along with the Saudi Osama bin Laden, the Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri of al-Qaeda (who are still at large) and the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed while leading the radical insurgency in Iraq. Cagey, dogged and charismatic, Mehsud had a knack for uniting disparate factions around a common cause; he transformed the badlands of South Waziristan into the most important redoubt for the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda. He denied involvement in the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, but he was not unhappy about it: the Pakistani government produced an alleged message from him congratulating the perpetrators: "Fantastic job. Very brave boys, the ones who killed her."

    With a reported 20,000 militants at his command, Mehsud was believed to have been the architect of the 2008 bombing of Islamabad's Marriott Hotel, the mastermind behind a terrorist cell uncovered in Barcelona that same year and the dispatcher of numerous suicide bombers in South Asia. Earlier this year, he threatened a massive terrorist attack on Washington that would "amaze everyone in the world."
    (Read "Islamabad After the Marriott Bombing: The Baghdad Effect.")

    An uneducated Pashtun tribesman from a modest clan, Mehsud reportedly came from a family that made their living driving trucks. Though given to boasting about his grand plans for inflicting mass murder, Mehsud was also cautious. He shunned photographers - there are no definitive portraits - traveled in convoys protected by armed guards and hopped between safe houses. Despite his bellicose rhetoric, Mehsud was also described as baby-faced and jocular in person.

    As a teen, Mehsud served as a Taliban fighter against the Soviets in the battle for Afghanistan, but first rose to prominence as a supporter of Abdullah Mehsud (no relation), a one-legged militant imprisoned at the U.S. prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, soon after the 9/11 terror attacks. Baitullah Mehsud quickly leapfrogged his boss, and his ascension up the jihadi ladder was made apparent in 2005, when - swathed in a black cloth to shield his face - he negotiated the public signing of a cease-fire agreement with the Pakistani government.
    (Read "Why Pakistan Balks at the U.S. Afghanistan Offensive.")

    Indeed, under the cover afforded by the agreement, Mehsud was once touted by a Pakistani army official as a "good Taliban." He used that goodwill to tighten his grip on Waziristan quickly, converting the rugged region into a haven where militant groups could freely operate camps and training facilities. The assassination of Bhutto and subsequent attacks attributed to Mehsud turned him into a prime target of the Pakistani government. In June 2009, the governor of the North-West Frontier Province denounced Mehsud as "the root cause of all evils" as the army launched a "full-fledged" military operation to eliminate the Taliban leader. CIA-operated drones also went to work, attacking sites associated with Mehsud. On Wednesday, one of their missiles may have found its mark.

  2. Kwetunikwetu

    Kwetunikwetu JF-Expert Member

    Aug 18, 2009
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    By MUNIR AHMAD, Associated Press Writer – 3 mins ago

    ISLAMABAD – Security forces captured the Pakistani Taliban's top spokesman, and he acknowledged the death of the group's leader in a recent U.S. missile strike, officials said Tuesday - further signs the militants are in disarray since the American attack.

    U.S. and Pakistani officials have said they were almost certain that the chief, Baitullah Mehsud, had been killed in the Aug. 5 strike, but at least three Taliban operatives, including the detainee, Maulvi Umar, had called media organizations following the attack to say he was still alive.

    Umar's comments - relayed by an intelligence official who took part in the questioning - would be first admission by the Taliban that Mehsud was dead. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

    The spokesman's capture was the second arrest of a prominent Taliban figure in 24 hours. It follows government claims of disarray in the militants' leadership over who should replace Mehsud.

    As the official spokesman for Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, the umbrella organization formed in 2007 for various regional and tribal militant movements, Umar frequently called journalists to claim responsibility for terrorist attacks in Pakistan. He was known to be close to Mehsud.

    As well as being the movement's mouthpiece, Umar was an influential aide to Mehsud and ranking member of the Taliban.

    Intelligence officials said they hoped to glean new information about the militant network from questioning him.

    He was captured along with two associates in a village in the Mohmand tribal region Monday night while he was traveling in a car to South Waziristan, a Taliban stronghold, said Javed Khan, a local government administrator.

    "Maulvi Umar is in our custody, and he is being questioned," Khan told The Associated Press without giving any further details.

    Earlier, three intelligence officials said local tribal elders assisted troops in locating Umar in the village of Khawazeo. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media, said Umar's arrest would likely be publicly announced later Tuesday.

    Umar's capture came a day after police arrested militant commander Qair Saifullah, another close Mehsud aide, as he was being treated in a private hospital in Islamabad, the capital.

    Saifullah, who is reportedly linked to al-Qaida, told police he had been wounded in an American missile strike in South Waziristan, said two police officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information. It was unclear if it was the same strike believed to have killed Mehsud.

    Saifullah appeared Tuesday before a special anti-terrorism court along with Zaid Ikram, an aide arrested along with him. Both were ordered held for four days for investigation, prosecutor Raja Yaseen said, but he would not elaborate on what charges they would face.

    The two men were being questioned for possible roles in attacks on U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan as well as terrorist attacks in Pakistan, said Islamabad police operations chief Tahir Alam Khan.

    Saifullah is affiliated to Harkat Jihad-e-Islami, an al-Qaida-linked group that recruits militants to fight foreign forces in Afghanistan, Khan said. Ikram - who is Saifullah's younger brother - played a major role in a bomb attack on Islamabad's Marriott hotel in 2004, in which one guard was killed in the parking lot, he said.

    Pakistan's Western allies are desperate to see a crackdown on militants threatening the stability of the nuclear-armed country as well as the success of the U.S. and NATO-led mission in neighboring Afghanistan, where violence is surging ahead of elections later this week.

    Visiting U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke on Sunday praised recent gains against the militants, including the reported death of Mehsud and the retaking of the Swat Valley, 100 miles (160 kilometers) from Islamabad, from the Taliban in July.


    Associated Press writers Habib Khan in Khar and Zarar Khan in Islamabad contributed to this report.