LAHORE: Mystery shrouds Hakeemullah Mehsud’s death, once again, in yet another US drone attack in North Waziristan, mainly because of the fact that the fugitive ameer of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan had been pronounced dead several times ever since he was appointed the TTP chief on August 22, 2009 after the death of Baitullah Mehsud.
Although Associated Press has claimed while citing intercepted radio communications between Taliban militants that Hakeemullah Mehsud had died in the January 12, 2012 US drone attacks in North Waziristan, the TTP circles have strongly refuted the report, saying he was not in the area where the drone strike occurred. Five people were killed and three others injured in the January 12, 2012 drone attack on two vehicles in the Dattakhel area of North Waziristan and Hakeemullah Mehsud is believed to amongst those killed in the strike. This was the second drone attack by the CIA-operated spy planes in the North Waziristan area as the American predators resumed their strikes on January 10, 2012 after a pause of almost six weeks.
The tribal sources have claimed that the drone fired two missiles and hit a double cabin pick-up vehicle and a car near the Dogga village in Dattakhel Tehsil, 45 kilometres west of Miramshah, the headquarters of the North Waziristan tribal agency. According to villagers in Dattakhel, some people were sitting in their vehicles after performing their Maghrib prayers when they came under drone attack.
The double cabin pick-up vehicle caught fire and four men were killed on the spot. Their badly mutilated bodies were pulled out of the destroyed vehicle later. Another person was killed in another vehicle - a car - that was targeted by a drone.
His body was mutilated and beyond recognition. There was no way to ascertain the identity of the slain men. However, it is now believed that one of those killed was Hakeemullah.
As a matter of fact, it was exactly a year ago that the international media had reported Hakeemullah’s death in North Waziristan in a January 14, 2011 US drone attack, saying the missiles struck a compound in the Shaktoi area, where the fugitive TTP ameer was asleep. It was claimed that Hakeemullah died along with 18 other militants. Although TTP spokesman Azam Tariq denied that the TTP ameer had died, he did confirm that Hakeemullah had been in the area. On January 16, 2011, the TTP released an audiotape carrying the voice of Hakeemullah, who said, “Today, on the 16th of January 2011, I am saying it again - I am alive, I am ok, I am not injured ... when the drone strike took place, I was not present in the area at that time.”
However, subsequent rumours claimed that he had died of injuries received in the attack. On January 31, 2011, Pakistan state television PTV reported that Hakeemullah Mehsud was injured in the drone attack and died three days later. He was allegedly buried in Orakzai Agency. Reuters, quoting Pakistani intelligence sources suggested that while escaping the initial attack, he was killed in another attack on January 17, 2011. As the TTP rejected these reports, The New York Times claimed that the American intelligence was 90% sure that Hakeemullah was dead. On February 9, 2010, media reports, citing TTP sources, stated that Mehsud had indeed been fatally wounded on January 14, 2010 and died en route to Karachi for medical treatment.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik and some unnamed Pakistani intelligence officials had confirmed to the Associated Press that the militant leader had perished but provided no further details. While the Taliban did release a videotape of Mehsud on February 28, 2010, officials questioned when the tape was made, as Mehsud did not provide details on current events. On April 28, 2010, Pakistani intelligence sources expressed doubts of Mehsud’s demise. They believed that Mehsud had been seriously injured in the strike and that his authority in the TTP had been overshadowed by other figures. On May 3, a video of Hakeemullah surfaced that was recorded in April 2010. But Hakeemullah was finally seen in the February 28, 2011 execution video of a former ISI official Colonel Sultan Ameer Tarar, better known as Colonel Imam.
Whether or not Hakeemullah was killed in the January 12, 2012 US drone strike, the fact remains that he is the prime target of the American predators, especially after having been held responsible [on September 2, 2010] for a 2009 suicide attack on a CIA base in Afghanistan which killed six senior CIA officials.
To recall, Hakeemullah had appeared alongside suicide bomber Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi in an early January 2010 video that claimed responsibility for the suicide attack on the CIA office in Afghanistan in retaliation for the death of Baitulluh Mehsud.