The Pakistani Taliban have appointed a successor to Baitullah Mehsud (photo foreground), who US and Pakistani officials believe was killed by a US strike earlier this month. Taliban sources say Mehsud survived the attack but is seriously ill.
AFP - The Pakistan Taliban have appointed a successor to their feared leader believed to have been killed in a US missile strike, a militant commander said Saturday.
American and Pakistani officials believe Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Baitullah Mehsud was killed earlier this month in a missile attack by US drone aircraft in the lawless South Waziristan tribal district bordering Afghanistan.
Taliban commanders say Mehsud survived but is seriously ill.
TTP deputy and battle-hardened former teacher Maulvi Faqir Mohammad, who announced on Wednesday that he had taken over as acting chief of the group, said a Taliban shura, or council, had made the appointment.
"A Taliban shura has unanimously appointed Hakimullah Mehsud as successor to Baitullah Mehsud," he told AFP by telephone.
"The shura meeting continued for two days and was attended by 22 members," he said.
Residents and intelligence officials in Khar, the main town of Bajaur tribal district, the base of Mohammad, said the militant leader relayed the news of Hakimullah's appointment on his illegal FM radio station.
"The shura has appointed Hakimullah as successor to Baitullah Mehsud. The shura earlier had nominated me as the acting chief but now I will be again deputy chief," an intelligence official quoted Mohammad as saying over the radio.
"I shall continue to be ameer (chief) of TTP in Bajaur," Mohammad said.
Pakistani intelligence officials say TTP spokesman Maulvi Omar, who was arrested this month, has confirmed that Mehsud was killed in a CIA strike on his father-in-law's house on August 5.
"Baitullah is alive but he is seriously sick," Mohammad said, adding: "God forbid if Baitullah is dead, Hakimullah will be his successor."
Hakimullah is considered as close aide of Mehsud, and a powerful commander who operates from the Orakzai tribal district, where US drones have conducted several missile strikes.
Pakistan in late April launched a punishing military offensive against Taliban in the northwest, targeting the rebels in the districts of Swat, Buner and Lower Dir after militants advanced perilously close to the capital.
Last month the military claimed to have cleared the area of the Taliban threat, and vowed to turn their attention to the mountainous tribal belt where Mehsud and his network have thrived since 2007.
Pakistani and US officials accuse Mehsud of masterminding the 2007 assassination of ex-prime minister Benazir Bhutto and a string of other attacks that have killed hundreds of people here over the last two years.
Government officials have said the death of the Al-Qaeda-linked warlord plunged the TTP into disarray, with factions opening up as different commanders vied to lead the militia blamed for hundreds of deaths across Pakistan.
Date created : 2009-08-22