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Pakistani Taliban admit Mehsud killed in US strike

Pakistani Taliban admit Mehsud killed in US strike

The Pakistani Taliban acknowledged Tuesday that the militants' top leader, Baitullah Mehsud, was dead, ending weeks of claims and counterclaims over his fate following a U.S. missile strike on his father-in-law's home this month.
Two of Mehsud's top aides, Hakimullah Mehsud and Waliur Rehman, called The Associated Press on Tuesday evening to say that he had died Sunday of wounds from the Aug. 5 strike near the Afghan border.
"He was wounded. He got the wounds in a drone strike and he was martyred two days ago," Hakimullah Mehsud said. Rehman later repeated the same statement.
Both also confirmed an earlier Taliban announcement that Hakimullah Mehsud now leads the Pakistani Taliban, while Rehman would lead the movement's wing in South Waziristan.
The Taliban had insisted for weeks that Baitullah Mehsud was still alive following the missile strike, while U.S. and Pakistani officials said he was almost certainly dead and a leadership struggle had ensued.
Hakimullah and Rehman, who had served as top aides to Baitullah, said they were calling together _ handing the telephone back and forth to each other _ to dispel reports of disunity in the Taliban leadership. They spoke to an Associated Press Reporter who had interviewed both and recognized their voices.
"Our presence together shows that we do not have any differences," Rehman said.
Both men had been named as candidates _ and possibly rivals _ to replace Baitullah Mehsud as chief of the al-Qaida-linked movement, which is blamed for dozens of terrorist attacks inside Pakistan and also for planning attacks on U.S. troops across the border in Afghanistan.
However, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or Pakistani Taliban Movement, announced Friday that Hakimullah would lead the group because Baitullah was ill. Members of the Mehsud clan use the same last name.
The 28-year-old Hakimullah Mehsud is known for his ruthless efficiency in staging attacks.
Hakimullah commanded three tribal regions and had a reputation as Baitullah's most ferocious deputy. He first appeared in public to journalists in November 2008, when he offered to take reporters on a ride in a U.S. Humvee taken from a supply truck heading to Afghanistan.
Hakimullah claimed responsibility for the June 9 bombing of the Pearl Continental hotel in Peshawar, and the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore earlier this year.
He also threatened suicide bombings in Pakistani cities in retaliation for a recent army offensive in the Swat Valley, which has been winding down in recent weeks.