Pakistani Taliban leader’s deputy survives assassination attempt

One of Baitullah Mehsud’s key deputies survived an assassination attempt while traveling home yesterday after attending a Taliban leadership meeting in South Waziristan.

Mullah Noor Sayyed Mehsud was wounded in a roadside bomb attack that killed another Taliban commander named Abdul Malik Shimankhel and wounded another leader. The bomb was detonated as Noor was returning from a meeting that was held in the town of Makeen. The vehicle was “smashed into pieces” by the blast, the Associated Press of Pakistan reported.

Makeen is the home town of Baitullah Mehsud, the emir or leader of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. Baitullah’s forces have expanded their power throughout northwestern Pakistan and along with the allied Haqqani Network is in control of the tribal agencies bordering Afghanistan. Baitullah is also closely aligned with al Qaeda and his forces serve in the paramilitary Shadow Army.

Noor is one of several senior lieutenants of Baitullah who have risen to prominence over the past year. Qari Hussain Mehsud is infamous for running child suicide camps in South Waziristan. Hakeemullah Mehsud commands Baitullah’s forces in Khyber, Arakzai, and Peshawar. Zulfiqar Mehsud is considered a possible successor to Baitullah, who is known to suffor from illnesses related to diabetes.

While no group has claimed credit for the attack against Noor, Baitullah has several rivals in the region. Baitullah’s main rival is Mullah Nazir, who operates in the western regions of South Waziristan. Baitullah and Nazir are rivals in the Wazir tribe. Nazir and North Waziristan Taliban commander Hafiz Gul Bahadar formed an alliance to resist Baitullah’s expansion in the tribal areas. The groups have not clashed since the alliance was formed.

Nazir and Bahadar are often referred to as “pro-government Taliban” as they oppose Baitullah’s armed insurrection against the Pakistani state. But both men provide shelter to al Qaeda and send forces into Afghanistan to fight US, NATO, and Afghan forces. Nazir, whose tribal areas have been a focus of the covert US air campaign, has threatened to take action against the government if the attacks do not cease.

Baitullah and Qari Hussain clashed in June 2007 after the latter’s foot soldiers launched a series of violent attacks on police in the tribal areas. Qari Hussain’s followers conducted beheadings and assassinations of tribal leaders in South Waziristan and the settled district of Tank. He was behind the attack on the home of the political agent of Khyber Agency, which resulted in the death of the agent’s six family members and seven guests.

The incidents resulted in clashes between the two Taliban leaders as Qari Hussain failed to obtain permission to conduct his campaign of terror. Baitullah retaliated by capturing 17 of Qari Hussain’s followers and threatened to kill them.

While the incident prompted some Pakistani analysts to predict the fracturing and demise of the Taliban, the rift was smoothed over during the summer after the Taliban went on the offensive against the Pakistani military, government, and civilians.

Baitullah has also made tribal enemies as his forces have extended their control into neighboring districts such as Tank, Hangu, and Dera Ismail Khan. But these smaller tribes likely would not have the resources to carry out a strike in the heart of Baitullah’s territory such as the recent assassination attempt.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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