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Taliban confirms Baitullah Mehsud's death

Aug. 26, 2009 at 1:21 PM   |   Comments

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Aug. 26 (UPI) -- Hakeemullah Mehsud, the new leader of the Pakistani Taliban, confirmed former leader Baitullah Mehsud died Sunday from wounds suffered in an airstrike.

Military airstrikes believed to be from U.S. aerial drones struck a village in South Waziristan on Aug. 5, killing a wife of Mehsud along with his bodyguards and several brothers.

U.S. and Pakistani officials say they believed Mehsud was killed in the attack but were awaiting official confirmation on the ground before verifying the reports.

Hakeemullah Mehsud, a cousin of the former leader, said Baitullah was critically wounded in the Aug. 5 attack, slipping into a coma and later dying Sunday, Pakistan newspaper The News International reports.

The reports of the death of the former Taliban leader sent the militant group scrambling for new leadership. Top candidates included Hakeemullah, who led operations against NATO convoys in Peshawar, and Qari Hussain Mehsud, who was allegedly behind the training of children for use as suicide bombers.

Faqir Mohammed, a deputy chief, made an independent claim to the leadership, saying he had the "right to replace Baitullah when he is unable to work."

Baitullah Mehsud had pledged his support to al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, the head of the Taliban. He was also linked to the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007.

© 2009 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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