The head of the Pakistani Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud, has been killed in a U.S. drone strike, U.S. and Taliban officials tell NPR and other news organizations.
“We confirm with great sorrow that our esteemed leader was martyred in a drone attack,” a senior Taliban commander was quoted by Reuters as saying.
The Associated Press reports that “a senior U.S. intelligence official confirmed the strike overnight, saying the U.S. received positive confirmation Friday morning that he had been killed.” The news agency said the CIA and the White House declined to comment.
An NPR producer in Islamabad, citing Pakistani intelligence sources, reports that Mehsud was in North Waziristan to attend a meeting at a mosque in the Darpa Dandakhel area of Miranshah when he was killed.
It’s worth pointing out that in the past, initial reports of senior al-Qaida and Taliban leaders being killed in drone strikes have frequently proved wrong.
The death of Mehsud “would be a major blow to the group that comes just a day after the [Pakistani] government said it started peace talks with the militants,” the AP says.
Mehsud, “believed to be behind a failed car bombing in New York’s Times Square in 2010 as well as brazen attacks inside Pakistan, was widely reported to have been killed in 2010, but later resurfaced. The tribal areas where the drone attacks occur are dangerous, making it difficult for journalists to independently confirm information,” according to the AP.
The BBC says four missiles were fired from the drone at a vehicle used by Mehsud. However, The New York Times reports that Mehsud was killed “at compound that had been built for Mr. Mehsud about a year ago, and which he had used intermittently since then.”
The BBC says:
“Four other people were killed in the strike, including two of Mehsud’s bodyguards, intelligence sources say.
“Several previous claims of his death, made by US and Pakistani intelligence sources, have proven untrue.”
“Hakimullah Mehsud was one of Pakistan’s most wanted men with a $5 million U.S. bounty on his head. He led an increasingly violent insurgency from a secret hideout in North Waziristan, the Taliban’s mountainous stronghold on the Afghan border.”
Update at 7:00 p.m. ET. NSC ‘Not In A Position To Confirm’:
National Security Council spokesman Caitlin Hayden tells NPR: “We have seen the reports that Hakimullah Mahsud may have been killed in Pakistan. We are not in a position to confirm those reports, but if true, this would be serious loss for the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP).”