ISLAMABAD — U.S. and Pakistani authorities are investigating reports that Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud was killed in an American missile strike, officials from both countries said today.
If confirmed, Mehsud's death would be a major boost to Pakistani and U.S. efforts to eradicate the Taliban and al-Qaida.
Mehsud is believed to be behind dozens of suicide attacks, beheadings and target killings in Pakistan. He is allied with al-Qaida and has been suspected in the killing of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
Pakistan views Mehsud as its top internal threat and has been preparing an offensive against him. The United States sees him as a danger to the war effort in Afghanistan, largely because of the threat he is believed to pose to nuclear-armed Pakistan. In March, the State Department authorized a reward of up to $5 million for Mehsud.
The missile strike hit the home of Mehsud's father-in-law in Pakistan's South Waziristan tribal region early Wednesday. Intelligence officials say Mehsud's second wife was among at least two people killed, and Mehsud associates have said he was not among the dead.
A Pakistan army spokesman, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, cautioned that the reports of Mehsud's death are still unconfirmed. "We are receiving reports," he said.
The U.S. government is also looking into the reports, according to a U.S. counterterrorism official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly.