Hakeemullah Mehsud, left. AFP photo.
Another Taliban commander has denied recent reports that the terror group’s top leader is dead, and said the leader would soon release evidence to prove he is alive.
An unnamed commander said he personally met with Hakeemullah Mehsud, the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, during a meeting of the shura majlis, or executive council, over the past 24 hours. The media have claimed that Hakeemullah died on three separate occasions since Jan. 14.
“Now I am dead sure he is alive,” the Taliban commander told The News. “I personally held a meeting with him and found him safe and sound.”
The Taliban shura had advised Hakeemullah to maintain silence after the second report of his death, the commander told The News. Hakeemullah did not agree with the advice, the commander said, but followed it. Azam Tariq, Hakeemullah’s spokesman, had said that the terror group’s leader would no longer release statements each time he was reported dead as US and Pakistani intelligence agencies hope to use the information to track his location.
But the shura changed its decision after the latest report of Hakeemullah’s death on Feb. 9, which supposedly occurred near the city of Multan while Hakeemullah was being transferred to Karachi for medical treatment. The report originated from a Pakistani television channel and was quickly picked up by the international media as proof that Hakeemullah was dead.
“Everybody, particularly Amir Saib (Hakeemullah) was scoffing at the recent media reports that claimed he had died of wounds in Multan while being shifted to Karachi for treatment,” the Taliban commander said. Hakeemullah now wants to make the press answer for their reports of his death.
“Now I will prove to them that I am alive but will ask them to explain why they declared me dead, these reports hurt my fellow fighters as well as friends and relatives having no direct access to me,” Hakeemullah said, according to the Taliban commander.
Hakeemullah, who has been quick to contact the media in the past, had released an audiotape confirming he was alive, just two days after the first report of his death this year. He was first reported to have been killed in a US Predator strike in North Waziristan on Jan. 14.
On Jan. 28, Hakeemullah was again reported to have died from wounds suffered in the Jan. 14 strike, and two unnamed tribal leaders claimed he was buried in the Taliban-controlled tribal agency of Arakzai. The Taliban again denied the reports but did not release a tape to confirm he was alive.
Several days later, another rumor surfaced that Maulvi Noor Jamal, a local Taliban commander in the Arakzai tribal agency, had replaced Hakeemullah.
But on Feb. 10, Jamal granted an interview, in which he denied he had taken control of the Pakistani Taliban and insisted that Hakeemullah was indeed alive.
Within the past few days, the Pakistani government has claimed it was 100 percent certain that Hakeemullah was dead but said it had no evidence to back it up. On two other occasions the government has claimed that Hakeemullah was killed, however: once in 2008, and then again in 2009.
Hakeemullah is considered one of the Taliban’s most able and dangerous commanders. He has orchestrated several major operations: the assault on NATO’s supply lines in the fall of 2007 and winter of 2008 that caused the closure of Khyber Pass six times, the most recent Taliban suicide campaign in Pakistan, and the tactical retreat from the military’s campaign in South Waziristan that began in October 2009. He has vowed to continue attacks until the military withdraws from the northwest.
Hakeemullah also sponsored the suicide attack that killed seven CIA personnel in Khost, Afghanistan on Dec. 30, 2009. The CIA has been actively hunting Hakeemullah since that attack.
Are you a dedicated reader of FDD's Long War Journal? Has our research benefitted you or your team over the years? Support our independent reporting and analysis today by considering a one-time or monthly donation. Thanks for reading! You can make a tax-deductible donation here.