Hakimullah Mehsud, the head of the Pakistani Taliban, has been killed by a US drone strike in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region bordering Afghanistan, security sources have told Al Jazeera.
Mehsud, who was believed to be in his mid-30s and was one of Pakistan’s most wanted men, has been reported dead several times before.
But late on Friday, several intelligence and army sources across Pakistan confirmed he had been killed, along with his bodyguard and driver, in the drone strike.
The Taliban have confirmed his death, but there was no immediate comment from the government.
The US offered $5m for Mehsud’s capture after he appeared in a farewell video with the Jordanian suicide bomber who killed seven CIA employees at a base in Afghanistan in 2009. The US prosecutors have charged him with involvement in the attack.
The killing was the latest in a series of setbacks for the Pakistani Taliban. A drone strike killed Mehsud’s number two in May and one of his most trusted lieutenants was captured in Afghanistan last month.
The death follows months of debate over potential peace talks between the Taliban and the new government of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who swept to a landslide victory in May elections.
Came into prominence
Mehsud came to prominence in the Taliban movement after a number of devastating raids on the nation’s regular army in 2007.
His first-ever mention in an English-language newspaper came when he was appointed as a spokesman for Baitullah Mehsud, his predecessor and mentor.
Mehsud then gained a reputation for his fighting skills, particularly with the AK-47, and served as Baitullah Mehsud’s deputy commander until the leader died in a CIA drone missile strike in August 8, 2009.
Never shy of the media, Mehsud was reportedly an extremely mobile Taliban commander – cropping up in one or other of the tribal areas regularly, especially the Khyber, Kurram and Orakzai tribal agencies.
He was an articulate leader, frequently spelling out his organisation’s objectives: to maintain the campaign of attrition against the Pakistani army in order to carve out a Pashtun Taliban emirate in Pakistan.
He was also the Pakistani Taliban’s most successful leader to date. In one especially audacious raid, he captured 300 Pakistani soldiers – an attack that local journalists say added greatly to his prestige.
‘Lively and dangerous’
Shafiq Ahmad, a reporter for Geo TV in Peshawar, met the leader at the beginning of 2009.
“Hakimullah is a lively man,” he said.
“He told us he could give us two gifts. One was the Humvee military vehicle that his fighters had captured during a recent raid in the Khyber pass on an Afghanistan-bound supply convoy for Nato forces.
|Mehsud, left, had vowed to continue war of attrition against the Pakistani military [AFP]|
“The other was a jeep that his men had snatched from UN employees.”
Another journalist, the BBC’s Syed Shoaib Hasan, met Mehsud at the same time and was impressed by a “handsome young man with a pleasant demeanour”, even though “danger radiated from him”.
“He [would] drive like a man possessed, manoeuvring around razor sharp bends at barely possible speeds … braking inches short of a several hundred-foot drop.”
Mehsud was born near the town of Jandola in South Waziristan around 1980 and went to a small village school in Hangu District.
Mehsud’s reputation grew with every inaccurate claim by the Pakistani government to have killed him.
On August 10, 2009, Pakistani officials announced his death, saying he had been hit by an unmanned drone attack after intercepting his phone calls.
But just hours later a Reuters news agency journalist reported he had spoken to Mehsud after the attack.
Later, on September 5, Pakistan forces “captured a man who confessed to killing Hakimullah”, according to the national newspaper The Daily Times, which also headlined four weeks later that Hakimullah had most probably died on October 1.
The headline was ruined three days later when the press-loving leader met a group of reporters in a bid to end any premature speculation of his demise.
Unabashed, Rehman Malik, the then Pakistan’s interior minister, maintained doubts about the video following the meeting, claiming it was Mehsud’s look-alike brother that featured in the footage.
|Hakimullah was involved in al-Balawi’s attack on CIA operatives in Afghanistan [AFP]|
Clearly Malik had a change of heart, however, because on November 2, Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan revealed that the Pakistani government was offering a $600,000 reward to anyone who could provide information that lead to the capture or death of Mehsud.
By early January 2010, no one was left in any doubt of his sprightliness when he appeared in another video alongside suicide bomber Humam al-Balawi.
Al-Balawi was a Jordanian national who attacked the US army Camp Chapman in Afghanistan on 30 December, an attack he called a “retaliation for the death of Baitullah Mehsud”.
And in the early hours of January 14, two missiles from a US drone – that struck a mosque in the Shaktoi area – led to speculation the Pakistan Taliban leader was among the 18 killed in the attack.
But just days later, the Taliban released an audio tape where a man who claimed to be Mehsud said he had not even been injured in the attack.
“I am saying it again – I am alive, I am OK, I am not injured … when the drone strike took place, I was not present in the area at that time”, the recording said.
However, Pakistani television reported on January 31 that Mehsud had died on January 17 and that his body had been buried.
The Taliban dismissed the reports, and on April 29, unnamed Pakistani intelligence officials said that after new checks, they had concluded that Mehsud had only been injured in January, not killed.
Two days later, a failed car bomb was discovered in New York’s Times Square, and what appeared to be Mehsud soon showed up in video recordings, warning the US of attacks and claiming “full responsibility for the recent attack in the USA”.
The videos, released by IntelCenter and SITE, two US-based groups monitoring Taliban media, were allegedly recorded in April.