Pakistan Taliban number two, Wali-ur-Rehman, has been killed in a US drone strike, say security officials.
Wali-ur-Rehman had been poised to succeed Hakimullah Mehsud as leader of the Pakistan Taliban, a senior army official based in the South Waziristan tribal region, the group’s stronghold, said in December.
The US authorities, who had offered a reward of up to five million dollars for information leading to his location, accused him of participating in cross-border attacks in Afghanistan against US and Nato personnel.
They also wanted ur-Rehman in connection with his involvement in the murder of seven American citizens on December 30, 2009, at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost, Afghanistan.
Three Pakistani officials say ur-Rehman was among four people killed in the drone strike in the North Waziristan tribal region near the border with Afghanistan.
Two of the officials say their informants in the field have seen the body.
The third official says there are intercepted communications between militants saying ur-Rehman was killed. A Taliban spokesman called the reports “false news.”
While the Pakistan government has not confirmed his death, an official from the Foreign Ministry condemned all such attacks:
“Any drone strike is against the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Pakistan and we condemn it.”
Pakistan’s prime minister elect Nawaz Sharif said earlier this month that he would be discussing drone strikes, which he also characterised as a “challenge” to his country’s sovereignty, with the American authorities.
Less than a week ago President Obama indicated that he was intending to scale back the use of drones.
The Pakistani Taliban are a separate entity allied to the Afghan Taliban. Known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), they have launched devastating attacks against the Pakistani military and civilians.
Drone casualties are difficult to verify. Foreign journalists must have permission from the military to visit the tribal areas along the Afghan border.
Taliban fighters also often seal off the sites of drone strikes immediately so Pakistani journalists cannot see the victims.
“This is a huge blow to militants and a win in the fight against insurgents,” one security official told Reuters, declining further comment.
The Pakistani Taliban were not immediately available for comment.
The security officials and Pashtun tribesmen in the northwestern region said the drone fired two missiles that struck a mud-built house at Chashma village, 3 km (2 miles) east of Miranshah, the region’s administrative town.
They said seven people were killed and four wounded.
“Tribesmen started rescue work an hour after the attack and recovered seven bodies,” said resident Bashir Dawar. “The bodies were badly damaged and beyond recognition.”