Page last updated at 15:39 GMT, Tuesday, 25 August 2009 16:39 UK

Taliban confirm commander's death

baitullah mehsud
The fate of Baitullah Mehsud has been the subject of intense speculation

The leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, is dead, two of his senior commanders have told the BBC.

It is the first time that the militant group has acknowledged his death.

The commanders, Hakimullah Mehsud and Waliur Rehman, said that he had died of injuries sustained in a US missile strike earlier this month.

Hakimullah has been named as successor to Baitullah Mehsud, who was Pakistan's most feared militant, accused of scores of suicide bombings and other attacks.

Hakimullah Mehsud, who is believed to be in his late 20s, said Baitullah Mehsud had been critically wounded by the missile strike but died only on Sunday.

Waliur Rehman said that Hakimullah Meshud had his support as leader, and denied reports of differences between the two men.

"There are no differences between the various Taliban faction and we are all united."

Earlier, government officials said the two factions led by Hakimullah Mehsud and Waliur Rehman had taken up arms against each other.

hakimullah mehsud

There were also claims that the newly appointed leader had been killed in a clash between the two sides.

"These are only false reports being spread by the government," Waliur Rehman said.

The fate of Baitullah Mehsud has also been the subject of intense speculation.

Senior Pakistani government officials have previously said they had information that Baitullah Mehsud was killed when a missile struck his father-in-law's compound on 5 August.

A Taliban spokesman arrested last week also reportedly confirmed Baitullah Mehsud's death to Pakistani intelligence officials.

But the Taliban have repeatedly denied these claims, despite announcing the appointment of Hakimullah Mehsud as its new leader just days ago.

The BBC's Aleem Maqbool in Islamabad says that the Pakistani government will be pleased that the Taliban has confirmed the death of Baitullah Mehsud.

It has been unable to provide tangible evidence of his death because of the remote and hostile terrain of Taliban strongholds in South Waziristan.

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