Hakimullah Mehsud is alive says Pak Taliban

Islamabad: A day after reports that Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud was killed in a US drone attack in North Waziristan, the militant group has said he is alive and the speculation about his death was a ruse to locate his whereabouts.

Unnamed Pakistani security and intelligence officials were quoted by a section of the media on Sunday as saying that Mehsud had died in a drone attack in Dattakhel area in North Waziristan Agency on January 12. The region has witnessed numerous drone strikes.

Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan told reporters in the country`s northwest that reports of Mehsud`s death were false. "There is no truth in reports about his death. However, he is a human being and can die any time. He is a mujahid and we wish him martyrdom," he said.

Two unnamed senior Taliban commanders and close aides of Mehsud told The News daily that the Taliban chief was alive. They said reports about his death were part of a "plan to provoke Hakimullah to surface and approach the media".

Other Taliban sources in North Waziristan told the paper that the January 12 drone attack had killed nine people. The sources said a majority of those killed were Turkmen. "As far as I know, most of the victims of the January 12 attack were foreigners. There was nothing for Hakimullah to do in a remote area like Dattakhel," a source was quoted as saying.

Unnamed Pakistani security officials were quoted by The Express Tribune as saying that they were not "100 per cent sure" that Mehsud was killed and were probing the matter.

Mehsud became Pakistani Taliban chief after his predecessor, Baitullah Mehsud, was killed in a drone strike in August 2009.

Some analysts noted that Ehsan`s denial was not as strong as the one issued by the Taliban in 2010 following reports of Mehsud`s death in a drone strike. Ehsan insisted that Mehsud was alive and leading his fighters. He said this was not the first time that "baseless reports" had been circulated about Mehsud`s death. The Taliban`s jihad is not linked with Mehsud and it would not stop after his death, Ehsan said. The Taliban have "many lions" and one lion would replace another to continue the "noble mission" of jihad, Ehsan said.

Media reports had said on Sunday that Pakistani security agencies had intercepted conversations between militants in the tribal areas in which they talked about Mehsud`s death in a drone strike.

The militants were overheard in about a half a dozen intercepts discussing whether Mehsud was killed in North Waziristan on January 12. Some militants confirmed Mehsud was dead and one criticised others for talking about the issue over the radio, the reports said.

Following reports that he had been killed in a drone strike in Shaktoi area of South Waziristan in January 2010, Mehsud had issued two audio messages to show that he was still alive.

Reports of Mehsud`s death have come against the backdrop of secret talks between Pakistani security agencies and Taliban factions. Publicly, the military has denied holding any talks with the militants but senior Taliban leaders have said that parleys were taking place.