PESHAWAR: There are strong indications that Hakimullah Mehsud, leader of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), was among the six people killed in a US drone attack at Danday Darpakhel village in North Waziristan tribal region on Friday.
Reuters and AP, quoting Taliban and intelligence sources, confirmed the death of the TTP chief in the drone strike.
Tribal sources said the drone fired four missiles and struck a house and a car in Danday Darpakhel village, three kilometres west of North Waziristan’s headquarters Miranshah.
The TTP spokesman, Shahidullah Shahid neither denied nor confirmed the death of Hakimullah Mehsud.
“I am away from Miranshah and trying to check with our people in Miranshah,” he said.
The residents of Danday Darpakhel village said a large number of militants arrived in the village soon after the drone attack and took control of the area. For some time the armed militants neither lunched the rescue work nor allowed local people to go near the site of the targeted building as four drones were still hovering over the area.
Senior members of the Pakistani Taliban said two senior commanders of the TTP, including Abdullah Bahar Mehsud, deputy to Hakimullah Mehsud, and Tariq Mehsud were among the dead.
The sources said Abdullah Bahar Mehsud was recently appointed as deputy and adviser to the TTP chief. He had replaced Latif Mehsud.
Latif Mehsud was deputy leader to Hakimullah and considered the operational chief of the TTP. He was arrested by the US forces in Afghanistan and reportedly held in a detention centre in the Bagram airbase.
Taliban sources said they had convened an emergency meeting of their Shura in Miranshah with Hakimullah Mehsud in the chair to discuss the proposed peace talks initiative with the government on Friday.
“I was personally present in the Shura meeting and Hakimullah Mehsud and all other members of the Shura backed peace talks with the government if the drone strikes were halted. I came home and Hakimullah Mehsud and other people left the meeting place for their respective positions,” a senior member of the TTP said.
Pleading anonymity, he insisted that Hakimullah Mehsud was not killed in the drone strike but confirmed that one of his personal vehicles was targeted.
“Hakimullah has been using six different vehicles and it was one of his cars,” he said.
The Taliban leader said local Taliban in North Waziristan, headed by Hafiz Gul Bahadur, had circulated pamphlets in the town and asked all the people to vacate Miranshah and its adjoining villages within a week so that the government and military officials never blame them for planting improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to target military convoys in those areas.
He said Hakimullah Mehsud had asked his men to take his car and shift his family members and other relatives to another safe place.
“When the car went there to pick up his family members, the drone fired four missiles. Two missiles struck the house and two other targeted the car and killed six people,” the TTP leader claimed.
He claimed Hakimullah did not spend much of his time in one place due to security reasons.
Pakistani security officials were quite sure that Hakimullah Mehsud has been killed in the drone attack.
It was third time Hakimullah Mehsud was reported died in the drone strike.
He was twice reported in 2009 to have been killed in the drone strikes. He later issued his audio message to prove that he was alive.
He was made head of the Pakistani Taliban when his predecessor and founder of the TTP, Baitullah Mehsud was killed in US drone attack at Zangara village in South Waziristan on August 5, 2009.
Reuters adds: The Pakistani Taliban confirmed that Hakimullah Mehsud had been killed in the drone strike in North Waziristan, senior Taliban and Pakistani intelligence sources told Reuters.
“Hakimullah Mehsud’s funeral is scheduled for 3:00pm today (Saturday) in Miranshah,” an intelligence source said.
Hakimullah Mehsud was one of Pakistan’s most wanted men with a $5 million US bounty on his head.
“We confirm with great sorrow that our esteemed leader was martyred in a drone attack,” a senior Taliban commander told Reuters.
Four security officials confirmed Hakimullah’s death to Reuters.
AP adds: Intelligence officials say Hakimullah Mehsud was among those killed in a US drone strike on Friday.
The officials say agents sent to the site of the attack in North Waziristan confirmed the death of the TTP chief.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk to the media.