Pakistan Taliban Chief Dies in US Drone Attack

TEHRAN (Tasnim) - The head of the Pakistani Taliban Hakimullah Mehsud is said to have been killed by a US drone strike on Friday, killed one day before Pakistani officials say they were scheduled to send a three-member team to start peace negotiations with the Taliban.

Pakistan Taliban Chief Dies in US Drone Attack

Hakimullah Mehsud was one of the most wanted and feared men in Pakistan with a $5 million US bounty on his head, leading an insurgency from a mountain hideout in North Waziristan, the Taliban's stronghold on the Afghan frontier.

"We confirm with great sorrow that our esteemed leader was martyred in a drone attack," a senior Taliban commander said.

In Washington, two US officials confirmed Mehsud's death in a CIA drone strike. They spoke on condition of anonymity.

At the White House, a spokeswoman said officials had seen the reports Mehsud may have been killed in Pakistan. "We are not in a position to confirm those reports, but if true, this would be a serious loss" for the Pakistan Taliban, Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said in a statement.

She noted that the Pakistan Taliban had claimed responsibility for the failed bomb plot at New York's Times Square in 2010, and that Mehsud was wanted in connection with the killing of seven CIA employees in Afghanistan in 2009.

The killing of Mehsud was the latest setback for the Pakistani Taliban, a group aligned with its Afghan namesakes and which has staged attacks against Pakistani armed forces and civilians in its fight to topple the government.

Some fear his death is almost certain to scuttle the prospect of peace talks between the Taliban and the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who won a landslide election victory in May by promising to bring peace to the country. But many believe Mehsud's death will leave the field open for groups that are known to have publicly favored a rapprochement with Pakistan.

Some local media say Taliban commander Khan Said Sajna is widely tipped to become the new leader, while other sources name Mehsud's cousin, Qari Walayat Mehsud as the new head of the Pakistani Taliban. Mullah Fazlullah is another candidate.

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