Page last updated at 09:13 GMT, Thursday, 29 April 2010 10:13 UK

Pakistan Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud 'still alive'

Hakimullah Mehsud (file photo)

Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud survived an American drone attack in the north-west of the country in January, intelligence sources say.

Officials said at the time that he was killed in a US missile attack along with at least 10 suspected militants.

Pakistani intelligence officials now say that Mr Mehsud was only wounded in the attack - although his authority within the Taliban has diminished.

From the outset, the Taliban consistently denied that he was dead.

Internal squabbling

The BBC's M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says that claims by US and Pakistani officials that Hakimullah Mehsud had been killed always lacked credibility.

The BBC also received a video of Hakimullah Mehsud, but it was difficult to determine when the footage was shot.

Our correspondent says that another argument against his death was the fact that there was no leadership challenge within the Pakistani Taliban after his reported demise - a development that normally would have been expected to have taken place.

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

The Taliban waited about three weeks to confirm that Hakimullah Mehsud's predecessor, Baitullah Mehsud, had been killed in an August strike amid widespread reports of internal squabbling over who would be his successor.

While the militants have not let reporters interview Hakimullah Mehsud since January, there was no martyrdom video or official announcement of his death posted on jihadi websites - which also usually happens when a prominent Taliban member is killed.

Intelligence officials say that Hakimullah Mehsud's power has however been reduced in recent months, and other Taliban commanders such as Waliur Rehman are now overshadowing him.

Correspondents point out that getting accurate information independently from the Pakistan's tribal regions where the Taliban leader is based is difficult because the area is remote and dangerous and there are legal restrictions on who can visit.

In recent months the army has being carrying out an offensive against the Pakistani Taliban in the north-west, forcing militant leaders to re-deploy to their main stronghold in North Waziristan.

The US stepped up efforts to kill Hakimullah Mehsud after he appeared in a video with a Jordanian suicide bomber who killed seven CIA employees in late December in eastern Afghanistan.

The Pakistani Taliban have carried out numerous suicide and other attacks in the country in recent years.


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