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Taliban leader in Pakistan reported killed in power struggle, shootout

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Pakistani officials said they received information on Saturday that a ranking militant commander was killed in a power struggle over who would succeed Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban.

A Pakistani government official and an intelligence official said Hakimullah Mehsud, a young and aggressive aide to the former leader, was shot dead in a fight with another commander, Waliur Rehman, who was seeking leadership during a meeting in a remote mountain region near the Afghan border.

Reports of Hakimullah Mehsud's death could not be verified Saturday. If true, it would be the second grave loss for the Pakistani Taliban in just a week, after reports that Baitullah Mehsud was killed in an American airstrike on Wednesday.

The killing would also solidify the belief among American and Pakistani intelligence officials that a power struggle has been brewing within the Pakistani Taliban, which is made up of many different tribes and factions that had been brought together under Baitullah Mehsud's leadership.

Such a conflict could strengthen the role that al-Qaida, which is also based in northwestern Pakistan, has in shaping the Taliban. Terrorism experts say the two groups have become deeply enmeshed in recent years, and it is expected that al-Qaida, with its international reach and stream of Persian Gulf money, will have a prominent say over who will emerge as leader.

In Washington, officials on Saturday could not confirm the reports of Hakimullah Mehsud's death, which were also carried by the Pakistani news network Dawn TV. But an American counterterrorism official said Saturday that the infighting could provide an opportunity for the United States and Pakistan to exploit the rivalries that are likely to emerge.

Details of the fighting were spotty on Saturday. Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik confirmed reports of a shootout at a meeting in South Waziristan.

"The infighting was between Waliur Rehman and Hakimullah Mehsud," Malik told Reuters. "We have information that one of them has been killed. Who was killed we will be able to say later after confirming."

Reports received by government officials on Saturday indicated that Mehsud and Rehman had argued over succession at a tribal meeting at Sara Rogha in South Waziristan.

Taliban leader in Pakistan reported killed in power struggle, shootout 08/08/09 [Last modified: Saturday, August 8, 2009 10:47pm]
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