Channel 4 News understands that a US drone strike in Pakistan has killed two senior members of the Taliban. There are also strong indications that Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud is among the dead.
Mehsud, who was believed to be in his mid-30s and leader of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), has been reported dead several times before. He is one of Pakistan’s most wanted men.
Late on Friday, several intelligence, army and militant sources across Pakistan said he had been killed by a drone strike in the lawless North Waziristan region.
“We can confirm Hakimullah Mehsud was killed in the drone strike,” said one senior security official.
And one senior Taliban commander said: “We confirm with great sorrow that our esteemed leader was martyred in a drone attack.”
He added that his funeral will be held on Saturday in Miranshah in Waziristan.
The Pakistani Taliban are still officially denying his death. The TTP official spokesman, Shahidullah Shahid, neither denied nor confirmed Mehsud’s death.
But he has confirmed to Channel 4 News that Abdullah Bahar Mehsud and Tariq Mehsud – associates of the Taliban leader – were killed in the drone strike.
The residents of Danday Darpakhel village said a large number of militants arrived in the village soon after the drone attack and took control of the area.
The armed militants did not allow local people to go near site of the targeted building as four drones were still hovering the area, residents said.
In May, a drone strike killed Mehsud’s second-in-command, and one of his most trusted lieutenants was captured in Afghanistan last month.
Reports of his death also follow months of debate over possible peace talks between the Taliban and the new government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who won a landslide election victory in May, promising to quash the insurgency.
Mehsud took over the Pakistani Taliban in August 2009. His Pakistani Taliban acts as an umbrella for various jihadist groups who are separate to, but allied to, the Afghan Taliban.
The government issued its usual statement denouncing the drone strike but did not comment on reports of Mehsud’s death.
If confirmed, Mehsud would be the third senior Taliban leader killed in US drone strikes this year. Wali-ur-Rehman Mehsud, the TTP deputy chief was killed in US attack in North Waziristan on 29 May and Maulvi Nazir, chief of his own faction of the Taliban was killed in South Waziristan on 2 January.
Just a week ago it emerged that Pakistan had known about US drone strikes, according to Wapo.