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Pakistan Taliban deny US drone strike killed top leader

Hakimullah Mehsud (file photo)

The Pakistani Taliban have denied their leader Hakimullah Mehsud was killed in a US missile attack in the north-west.

At least 10 suspected militants died when missiles were fired at a target in the South Waziristan region near the Afghan border, Pakistani officials say.

A Taliban spokesman said Mehsud had been in the area but left before the alleged training camp was attacked. He is on a list of key militant targets.

Hundreds of people have been killed in drone attacks since mid-2008.

Top Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, killed last August, was among them.

North and South Waziristan - where the Mehsud faction comes from - are major sanctuaries for militants.

Pakistan's army launched an offensive in South Waziristan in October and is under US pressure to do the same in North Waziristan.

'Completely safe'

The Pakistan Taliban spokesman confirmed that Hakimullah Mehsud had, until recently, been in the Shaktoi area where the compound was struck.

US drone
Drones can be remotely controlled from thousands of miles away

"But he had left the place already when the drone attack took place. He is alive and completely safe," Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq told the AFP news agency by telephone.

The spokesman did not say when Hakimullah Mehsud left the area, which is to the east of the town of Razmak.

At least two missiles were fired by the drone into the sprawling compound which was used as a religious school in the past, officials say.

It is the latest in a series of drone attacks in South Waziristan since the beginning of the year.

Several Pakistani intelligence officials said Hakimullah Mehsud was the target of Thursday's attack, but there has been no official confirmation of reports he was killed.

Hakimullah Mehsud recently appeared in a video alongside a Jordanian man alleged to have killed seven CIA agents in a suicide bombing in Afghanistan.

He has led the Pakistani Taliban since Baitullah Mehsud's death last summer. It took the Taliban a number of weeks to admit that he had been hit in the missile strike which killed him.

Pakistan has publicly criticised drone attacks, saying they fuel support for the militants. But observers say in private the authorities have given the go-ahead for the strikes.

The US military does not routinely confirm drone attacks, but analysts say the US armed forces and CIA in Afghanistan are the only forces capable of deploying drones in the region.

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FROM OTHER NEWS SITES
The Independent US strikes back with drone attack on leader of Taliban - 8 hrs ago
The News International Hakimullah feared dead in SWA drone attack - 10 hrs ago
Bangkok Post US missile strike targets Pakistan Taliban chief: officials - 15 hrs ago
Yahoo! News US missile strike targets Pakistan Taliban chief: officials (AFP) - 16 hrs ago
France24 PAKISTAN: US missile strike kills 15 in Pakistani militant camp - 17 hrs ago



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