Page last updated at 11:14 GMT, Monday, 5 October 2009 12:14 UK

New Taliban chief meets reporters


New Taliban chief meets reporters

The new head of Pakistan's Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud, has met reporters in the country's north-west, quashing persistent rumours he was dead.

It is the first public appearance by the Taliban chief since he took control after his predecessor was killed in a US missile attack in August.

Hakimullah Mehsud said he would avenge the killing of Baitullah Mehsud.

News of the meeting came as a suicide bomber targeted the UN's offices in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.

The BBC's M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says that Hakimullah Mehsud's decision to appear before the press indicates the Taliban are desperate to shore up the morale of their comrades in other regions.

The meeting comes at a time when the Pakistani army and US drones have been aggressively targeting the militant leadership in the region.

Hakimullah Mehsud (file photo)

Hakimullah Mehsud met only journalists from his clan at a location which has not been disclosed. Five Mehsud reporters based near his stronghold in the tribal region of South Waziristan attended the clandestine meeting on Sunday.

It was held on condition that it could be reported only on Monday.

Very few other journalists were invited - those who were did not go for security reasons.

The Taliban commander's appearance in public will end weeks of speculation on the part of Pakistani and US intelligence officials that he was in fact dead, our correspondent says.

Rumours of his demise persisted despite the fact that he had spoken to the BBC and other media outlets by telephone on a number of occasions in recent months.

Vengeance promised

Hakimullah Mehsud was flanked by senior Taliban commanders Qari Waliur Rehman and Qari Hussain - the man reputed to be responsible for training suicide bombers.

Pakistani Taliban
A number of senior militants have been killed in recent weeks

One of the journalists who was at the meeting told the BBC that all the militant leaders appeared to be in good health.

Hakimullah Mehsud said his group would avenge the killing of former Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud by striking back at Pakistan and the US.

He said he would retaliate against recent efforts on the part of the US and Pakistani security forces to target senior Taliban figures.

A number of senior militant commanders have been killed in recent missile strikes along the troubled border with Afghanistan.

Hakimullah Mehsud's brother was killed in a clash with security forces only last week.

The recent spate of strikes on Taliban commanders follows the death of Baitullah Mehsud in a US missile attack in the tribal region of South Waziristan on 6 August.

After some weeks the Taliban acknowledged his death and put Hakimullah Mehsud, the young and feared commander from South Waziristan, at its helm.

Correspondents say a series of blasts across the country's north-west in the past month show that the Taliban appear to be reasserting themselves after a series of setbacks.

This public appearance by Hakimullah Mehsud appears to be part of an effort to prevent the Pakistani Taliban from disintegrating, our correspondent says.


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