The leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud, has been killed in a drone strike, a high-ranking Taliban official has told the BBC.
The strike targeted a vehicle used by Mehsud with four missiles in the north-western region of North Waziristan.
Four other people were killed in the strike, including two of Mehsud’s bodyguards, intelligence sources say.
Several previous claims of his death, made by US and Pakistani intelligence sources, have proven untrue.
Hakimullah Mehsud has been killed one day before Pakistani officials say they were scheduled to send a three-member team to start peace negotiations with the Taliban.
Pakistan’s interior minister, Chaudhry Nisar, told a local TV news channel, Geo, that the drone strike was an attempt to “sabotage” Pakistan’s peace talks with Taliban.
But many believe Mehsud’s death will leave the field open for groups that are known to have publicly favoured a rapprochement with Pakistan.
One of these groups is headed by Khan Said Sajna, the successor of Waliur Rehman, a militant commander who favoured talks with Islamabad and once contested for the leadership of the Pakistani Taliban (TTP). Rehman was killed in a drone strike in May.
Mr Sajna is one of those now tipped to succeed Mehsud as the new leader of the Pakistani Taliban.
Friday’s strike targeted Mehsud’s vehicle in the Dande Darpakhel, some 5km (3miles) north of the region’s main town, Miranshah.
A senior US intelligence official told the Associated Press that the US received positive confirmation on Friday morning that he had been killed.
Hakimullah Mehsud had come to prominence in 2007 as a commander under the militant group’s founder Baitullah Mehsud, with the capture of 300 Pakistani soldiers adding to his prestige among the militants.
In January 2010 he gained further notoriety when he appeared in a video alongside a Jordanian who is said to have blown himself up, killing seven CIA agents in Afghanistan to avenge Baitullah Mehsud’s death.
Hakimullah Mehsud had a $ 5m FBI bounty on his head and was thought to be responsible for the deaths of thousands of people.
Mehsud became leader of the Pakistani Taliban in 2009, aged 30, after his predecessor Baitullah Mehsud died in a US drone strike at his father-in-law’s residence in South Waziristan.
The strike against Baitullah Mehsud reportedly came after repeated complaints by Pakistani officials that the Americans were not hitting militant groups who attacked targets in Pakistan.
His second-in-command, Waliur Rehman, died in a drone strike in May.
- Became overall leader of Pakistani Taliban in 2009, aged 30, after his predecessor died in a US drone strike
- Masterminded campaign against Nato convoys in Khyber tribal region and Peshawar
- Emerged as a prominent fighter after reputedly leading a raid that captured 300 soldiers
- US authorities had $ 5m bounty on his head
The attack targeting him comes on the same day that the Pakistani government announced it was about to send a delegation to North Waziristan to try to get peace negotiations with the Taliban under way.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had pledged to talk with the Taliban to try to end its campaign of violence, which has left thousands dead in bombings and shootings across the country.
In a rare interview with the BBC two weeks ago, Mehsud said he was open to “serious talks” with the government but said he had not yet been approached.
Mehsud denied carrying out recent deadly attacks in public places, saying his targets were “America and its friends”.
He had loose control over more than 30 militant groups in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
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