Sports & Entertainment
Pakistan investigates reports of Taliban leader's death
  • | Wall Street Journal | February 01, 2010 12:07 PM

Pakistan is investigating reports that the leader of the Taliban in the country died from wounds sustained in mid-January in an airstrike carried out by a U.S. drone aircraft, Pakistani officials said Sunday.

Hakimullah Mehsud, shown at a 2008 news conference.

Rumors of Hakimullah Mehsud's death have been swirling for days, and officials had been largely dismissive of the reports. But on Sunday, the state-owned Pakistan Television Corp., citing unnamed officials, said Mr. Mehsud had succumbed to wounds sustained in the Jan. 15 airstrike and was recently buried in one of the Taliban-dominated tribal areas that border Afghanistan. The report didn't say exactly when he died.

Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, chief spokesman for Pakistan's military, said authorities couldn't confirm whether Mr. Mehsud was alive or dead. "We are checking the veracity of the reports of death," he said.

A U.S. official in the region said the Americans, too, were uncertain about Mr. Mehsud's fate. "We've heard all the same rumors," the official said. U.S. intelligence agencies are investigating the reports, according to officials in Washington.

The Jan. 15 missile strike that may have killed Mr. Mehsud hit a compound in a village on the border between South Waziristan and the neighboring North Waziristan tribal area.

In its immediate aftermath, militants insisted Mr. Mehsud had left the compound minutes before the strike. He subsequently released audio messages denying he was anywhere near the attack. But his messages failed to quell rumors that he had been seriously wounded.

If the latest reports of his demise prove true, it would be the second time in six months that U.S. American missiles have slain the leader of the a Pakistan Taliban leader; Mr. Mehsud's predecessor Baitullah Mehsud, who wasn't not a relation, was killed in August by a U.S. drone.

Sunday's report also wasn't the first time Hakimullah Mehsud, who is in his late 20s or early 30s, was said to have died. For almost two months after he was named the leader of the Pakistan Taliban, an offshoot of the Afghan movement, Pakistani and U.S. officials insisted he had been killed in a power struggle for control of the group. The rumors didn't stopcirculatinguntil he held asmallpress conference in the tribal areas in early October.

Mr. Mehsud has since gone on to order a series of terror attacks on Pakistan's major cities. But he has also faced an onslaught from Pakistan's army in his home base, the South Waziristan tribal area. At the same time, U.S. attempts to kill him with missile strikes increased after the release in January of a video showing him with the al Qaeda double agent who blew himself up at an American base in eastern Afghanistan in late December, killing seven agents and contractors for the Central Intelligence Agency.