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Taliban denies Mehsud death reports

Jan. 15, 2012 at 11:53 PM

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Jan. 15 (UPI) -- A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban denied reports a suspected U.S. drone strike may have killed their leader, Hakimullah Mehsud.

Pakistan's News International, quoting Ihsanullah Ihsan, spokesman for the Mehsud-led Pakistani Taliban called Tehrik-e-Taliban or TTP, said the leader was alive and leading his fighters.

"There is no truth in reports about his death. However, he is a human being and can die any time. He is a mujahid and we wish him martyrdom," Ihsan was quoted as saying.

The newspaper said some Western media had quoted Pakistani security officials as saying Hakimullah was killed in a Thursday drone strike in Pakistan's tribal region of North Waziristan citing security officials' interceptions of conversations between militants in the tribal areas.

The newspaper said the TTP spokesman, speaking to its correspondent from an undisclosed location, claimed this was not the first time reports had been circulated about the death of their leader.

The spokesman was quoted as saying "jihad" was not linked just with Hakimullah and wouldn't stop.

"We will continue jihad whether Hakimullah is alive or dead. There are so many lions in this jungle and one lion will replace another to continue this noble mission," Ihsanullah said.

The newspaper said two other senior militant commanders and close aides also denied reports of Hakimullah's death, adding they were part of a plan to provoke Hakimullah to surface and approach the media.

The report said other Taliban sources in North Waziristan also were not able to confirm Hakimullah's death. They said most of nine people killed in the Thursday drone strike were foreigners.

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