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Page last updated at 10:45 GMT, Sunday, 23 August 2009 11:45 UK

Doubts cast on Taliban leadership

Hakimullah Mehsud (file photo)
Hakimullah Mehsud is said to be a ruthless militant

Pakistani intelligence officials have cast doubt on the claimed selection of a new leader to the country's Taliban.

The movement's deputy leader, Maulvi Faqir Mohammed, earlier told the BBC that a Taliban council had chosen Hakimullah Mehsud to lead it.

Pakistani intelligence officials have said the claim is a ruse to disguise factional fighting within the Taliban.

Pakistani and US officials believe the previous leader, Baitullah Mehsud, was killed in a US drone strike.

However the Taliban continue to insist that he is still alive, despite the announcement of a new leader being appointed.

Differing claims

Hakimullah Mehsud, who is in his late 20s, is a military chief of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) organisation formed by Baitullah Mehsud in an effort to unite the various factions under one umbrella.

He controls an estimated 2,000 fighters in the Orakzai, Kurram and Khyber regions.

However, Pakistani intelligence officials have said Hakimullah Mehsud is also dead, killed in a shootout with rivals days after Baitullah Mehsud was apparently killed on 5 August.

Taliban members in north-western Pakistan
The Taliban in Pakistan are divided into different factions

Pakistani officials told news agencies that Maulvi Faqir Mohammed's announcement was a trick to cover up an ongoing power struggle among the movement.

"The announcement is real, but the man isn't," Reuters quoted one senior intelligence officer in north-west Pakistan. "The real Hakimullah is dead."

But on Saturday Mr Mohammed told BBC Urdu: "Baitullah Mehsud has been in hiding and he is very ill. He expressed his will that the next Taliban chief should be elected by the Taliban Council while he is alive."

"The council held its meeting in the Orakzai tribal area... the council has decided that Hakimullah Mehsud will be the leader of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan," Mr Mohammed said.

But the BBC's Orla Guerin in Islamabad says many will see the naming of a new leader as confirmation that Baitullah Mehsud is dead.

Our correspondent says Hakimullah Mehsud is a young commander in Baitullah's own image and is reported to be equally ruthless.

Some believe he could be an even bigger threat to Pakistan, and to foreign troops across the border in Afghanistan, she adds.



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