Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud was among six militants killed in a US drone strike in the lawless North Waziristan tribal region, Pakistani media reported tonight.
Besides Mehsud, his uncle, bodyguard Tariq Mehsud and driver Abdullah Mehsud were killed when the CIA-operated spy plane targeted a compound in Danday Darpakhel area of North Waziristan Agency.
Intelligence sources were quoted by Dawn as saying that Mehsud was killed in the attack. Geo News too quoted security sources as confirming the Taliban chief's death.
The compound was "completely destroyed" when two missiles hit it while an important meeting of the Taliban was being held there, the sources said.
There was no official word on the killing of Mehsud. This would be the latest in a string of setbacks for the top leadership of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, who have been repeatedly targeted by US drones in the tribal belt.
Pakistani and international media had reported Mehsud's death several times in the past but he had surfaced after lying low for some time.
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan called up Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and a host of political leaders to discuss the fallout of today's strike.
He claimed the strikes were aimed at sabotaging efforts for establishing peace in the country. "A delegation was about to be sent to talk to Taliban tomorrow (Saturday)," he said.
The drone strike came days after US special forces captured TTP deputy chief Latif Mehsud in Afghanistan. This was the second drone strike in two days. Three suspected militants were killed in an attack on Thursday.
It was also the second drone strike since Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited the US last month. Sharif had raised the strikes during his meeting with President Barack Obama in Washington and asked the US to halt the attacks.
Danday Darpakhel area is located five kilometres north of Miranshah, the main town of North Waziristan Agency, which is described by US and Afghan officials as a safe haven for Taliban and Al Qaeda elements.
The compound targeted in today's attack was reportedly used by Mehsud. The TTP has a central office in the area that Mehsud frequently visits, sources said.
The TTP has been waging a bloody campaign against Pakistani security forces and has carried out a series of bombings and suicide attacks that killed thousands across the country.
Mehsud took over as chief of the TTP in August 2009 after his predecessor, Baitullah Mehsud, was killed in a drone strike.
The US had offered a USD 5 million bounty for Mehsud after he was linked to a suicide attack on a CIA compound in Afghanistan in 2009.
The drone strike could also severely impact the Pakistan government's plans to hold peace talks with the Taliban. A TTP commander told PTI earlier today that they were in touch with the government and both sides were forming teams to lead negotiations.
Pakistan strongly condemned the attack, saying it was a violation of the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity.
"Such strikes also set dangerous precedents in the inter-state relations. These drone strikes have a negative impact on the mutual desire of both countries to forge a cordial and cooperative relationship and to ensure peace and stability in the region," said a statement from the Foreign Office.
"There is an across the board consensus in Pakistan that these drone strikes must end," it said.
Meanwhile, a pamphlet distributed by the Taliban in North Waziristan asked people to vacate the area in a week as the situation in the region may worsen in coming days.
In Washington, US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki refused to confirm or deny reports that Mehsud has been killed in the drone strike.
"I have seen those reports. I don't have anything for you on it," Jen Psaki told reporters at her daily news conference. "I know they just came out just before I came down here, but nothing from this end or from the podium."
"We have a close cooperative relationship with Pakistan on a range of issues, including counter-terrorism. But on these specific reports, I just don't have anything for you guys on that," Psaki added.
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