A commander reported to have replaced Taliban leader Hakeemullah Mehsud has denied he has taken control of the terror group and states that Hakeemullah is still alive.
“Hakeemullah was neither killed nor I have been appointed acting emir (chief) of the Taliban,” Maulvi Noor Jamal, a local commander in the Arakzai tribal agency who has been rumored to have succeeded Hakkemullah, told Reuters today. Maulvi Noor Jamal, who is also known as Maulvi Toofan, was first reported to have taken over for the Taliban by The News on Feb. 2.
Another Taliban leader, who was not identified, also told Reuters today that Hakeemullah is alive. Yesterday, Azam Tariq, the top Taliban spokesman, also denied the latest rumor that Hakemullah had been killed.
But a top Pakistani official today claimed that “credible information” exists that Hakeemullah was killed, but admitted he does not have proof.
“I have credible information that he’s dead but I don’t have any confirmation,” Interior Minister Rehman Malik told Reuters.
The latest rumor that Hakeemullah died from wounds sustained in the Jan. 14 Predator strike in North Waziristan, which was carried out by unmanned US aircraft and killed 17 Taliban and al Qaeda fighters, is the fifth report of his death since 2008.
In January 2008, the Pakistani military claimed Hakeemullah was killed during an operation in South Waziristan, only to have the Taliban leader mock them at a press conference in Peshawar months later.
In August 2009, Rehman Malik insisted that Hakeemullah had been killed during a clash with Waliur Rehman Mehsud, the leader of the Taliban in South Waziristan, over who would succeed Baitullah Mehsud after his death during US Predator strike. Hakeemullah and Waliur later called news outlets together and also appeared together on a videotape to disprove the claim, but Malik insisted that Hakeemullah was being played by a body double, possibly his brother.
After the Jan. 14, 2009, airstrike, a new rumor emerged that Hakeemullah had been killed, but the Taliban commander issued a tape in which he denied the report and provided the day’s date, Jan. 16. Two weeks later, another rumor surfaced, claiming that Hakeemullah had died from a head injury and was buried on Jan. 28 in the Arakzai tribal agency. The latest rumor maintains that Hakeemullah died on Feb. 9 near the city of Multan while being transported from Arakzai to the port city of Karachi for medical treatment [see LWJ report, “New rumors of the death of Pakistani Taliban leader emerge“].
On Jan. 31, Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq said Hakeemullah would no longer issue audio or video tapes to confirm he is alive as US and Pakistani intelligence would seek to use the information to track back to his location.
US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal refuse to speculate further on Hakeemullah’s status. They say that because the Pakistani military and government have little capacity to determine the facts due to Taliban control of the tribal regions, the Taliban themselves will ultimately provide the evidence that Hakeemullah is alive or dead.
Hakeemullah is considered one of the Taliban’s most able and dangerous commanders. He has orchestrated the assult on NATO’s supply lines in the fall of 2007 and winter of 2008 that resulted in the Khyber Pass being closed six times, the most recent Taliban suicide campaign in Pakistan, and the tactical retreat from the military’s operation 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 after that attack.
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