Is Pakistan's Taliban Chief Dead?





American and Pakistani officials say it looks more and more likely that Baitullah Mehsud, the Pakistani Taliban chief who had a $5 million bounty on his head, is 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...

...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."

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