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'Dead or alive' reward offered for Taliban leader

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-06-29

Pakistan has offered 615,000 dollars for information leading to the capture, dead or alive, of local Taliban head Baitullah Mehsud, who is blamed for attacks that killed hundreds in two years of insurgency.

AFP - Pakistan on Sunday offered a 615,000-dollar reward for information leading to the capture, dead or alive, of local Taliban head Baitullah Mehsud, currently holed up in the tribal belt.

Two national Urdu-language newspapers and local papers in the northwest city of Peshawar carried an advert offering the 50-million-rupee (615,300-dollar) reward for Mehsud, and other amounts for 10 of his senior militants.

"The government has announced a cash reward for anybody providing authentic information leading to the capture of these (11), dead or alive," said the advertisement. It then lists the wanted men, along with their bounties.

"Innocent people are being killed because of the bloody activities of these so-called defenders of Islam," the advert adds.

Fighter jets and helicopter gunships have been pounding Mehsud's hideouts for weeks, ahead of an expected ground offensive following a similar operation to root out Taliban in and around northwest Swat valley launched in late April.

Fayyaz Tooro, home secretary of the North West Frontier Province, confirmed to AFP that the government had placed the adverts, and said it was the first time that Pakistan had slapped a figure on Al-Qaeda-linked Mehsud.

"This list has been issued by the interior ministry and has been published for the first time in close cooperation with security agencies, which provided invaluable information to the government," Tooro said.

He said copies of the list had been sent to all security agencies and police stations in the province, as well as tribal and local officials. There are telephone numbers on the advert for members of the pubic to call.

Mehsud already has a five-million-dollar bounty on his head offered by the United States, with the US State Department branding the warlord "a key Al-Qaeda facilitator in the tribal areas of South Waziristan."

Pakistan blames Mehsud for a wave of deadly attacks which has killed hundreds here in two years of insurgency, and has vowed to unseat him from his fiefdom in the peaks of northwest South Waziristan.

All but two of the 10 other wanted men hail from the tribal belt, with bounties of between 10 to 15 million rupees each for his close aides Maulvi Faqir Mohammad and Qari Hussain and Taliban spokesman Hakimullah Mehsud.

Analysts and security sources have said that the military will likely try to fan rivalries among the Mehsud tribe to gain allies before any operation into the hostile, mountainous territory along the Afghan border.

That strategy was dealt a blow on Tuesday when Qari Zainuddin -- a rising tribal leader who had defected from Mehsud's Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) -- was assassinated in an attack claimed by the TTP.

Pakistan's northwestern tribal belt has become a stronghold for Taliban and Al-Qaeda extremists who fled Afghanistan after a US-led invasion toppled the hardline Taliban regime in late 2001.

Mehsud, believed to be in his late 30s, set up the TTP umbrella group of tribal militants in 2007, and has steadily extended his influence into North Waziristan and Bajaur districts and nearby cities of Tank and Dera Ismail Khan.

Pakistan has already offered a 50-million-rupee reward for the Swat Taliban chief Maulana Fazlullah. The interior minister has said Fazlullah is injured and close to capture, but the army has refused to confirm those reports.

Date created : 2009-06-28

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