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Baitullah Mehsud alive, in hiding: Pakistan Taliban
Published on 9 Aug. 2009 12:27 AM IST
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Pakistan Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, said to be responsible for the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, was not killed in a US drone attack but is in hiding as part of a “strategy”, a spokesman for the group said on Saturday. Speaking to an Arabic TV channel, Tahreek-e-Taliban spokesman Hakeemullah Mehsud, a close relative of the militant leader, said a videotape would soon be released to prove that Mehsud was alive. “Baitullah has gone into hiding as a part of a strategy and he is not in contact with anyone after the drone attack,” the spokesman said. Queried about Mehsud’s presence in his father-in-law’s house at the time of the attack, the spokesman said living in one’s in-laws house was against Pashtoon tradition and the militant leader was not present in the building at the time of the attack. On Friday, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi confirmed that Mehsud had been killed in a drone attack in South Waziristan Wednesday. “He (Mehsud) has been taken out,” Qureshi told reporters here. Saying that intelligence sources had confirmed Mehsud’s death, he added that the government was verifying the situation on the ground “to confirm 100 per cent” this was true. Intelligence officials said Mehsud was killed in a missile strike Wednesday on the home of his father-in-law and that his body was buried in the village of Nardusai in South Waziristan, not far from the site of the strike. One official said he had seen a classified intelligence report stating Mehsud was dead and buried, but that agents had not seen the body as the area was under Taliban control. Interior Minister Rehman Malik earlier said he could confirm the death of Mehsud’s wife but not of the Taliban leader himself, although information pointed in that direction. “I can confirm to the extent that his wife is dead, and probably one of his brothers, but we do not have any evidence that he’s dead,” Malik was quoted as saying. The US has declined to confirm Mehsud’s death, but said if correct, it would undoubtedly make Pakistani people safer. “We have obviously seen reports - even by members of the Taliban - that Baitullah Mehsud is dead. We can’t, with a 100 per cent certainty, verify that,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Friday. “What I will say is this: If the reports of Baitullah Mehsud’s death are correct, there is no doubt that the Pakistani people are safer as a result of it,” Gibbs said when asked what Mehsud’s death would mean for President Barack Obama’s strategy for stabilising the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.

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