Pakistan Taleban chief killed near Afghan border

Bitan was killed near the Afghan border. Picture: Getty
Bitan was killed near the Afghan border. Picture: Getty
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Gunmen killed a senior official of the Pakistan Taleban in a tribal region near the Afghan border yesterday, intelligence officials and militant commanders said.

Asmatullah Shaheen Bitani and three aides died in a shooting in the Darga Mandi area of North Waziristan, the four officials and two militants said.

Bitani’s cousin also confirmed his death, saying that his family was preparing for a funeral and burial.

The officials said it was not clear whether the killing was militant infighting, or if Pakistani security forces killed him, or if Bitani was shot by someone who wanted the government bounty of 10 million rupees (£97,000) on him. No one had claimed responsibility as of last night.

Bitani, who sat on the Pakistani Taleban’s executive council, was appointed interim chief of the militant group after a suspected US drone strike killed his former chief Hakimullah Mehsud last year.

He has since been replaced by another leader, Mullah Fazlullah, who was chosen by the executive council.

The Pakistani Taleban are a loose network of militant groups. Tens of thousands of Pakistanis have died in their war to overthrow the government and enforce their own harsh brand of Islamic Shariah law.

North Waziristan is home to a mix of local and foreign al- Qaeda linked militant groups.

Afghan warlord Hafiz Gul Bahadur heads one of these groups. He has a non-aggression treaty with the Pakistani government. He controls the Darga Mandi area where Bitani was killed.

Pakistan’s government recently started peace talks with the Taleban, but negotiations were suspended after the killing of 23 soldiers by a faction of the militant group, along with a militant-claimed bombing in the southern port city of Karachi that killed 13 police officers.

Ever since, Pakistani air force jets have been pounding militants’ hideouts in tribal regions near the Afghan border. In the latest strikes, the air force hit compounds and a bomb-making factory in the Tirah valley in Khyber tribal region, an army and an intelligence official said. They claimed that at least 28 militants were killed.

They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk to the media on record. There was no way to independently confirm the report. The remote tribal area is off limits to journalists.

Also yesterday, a suicide bomber wearing an explosives vest blew himself up near a security checkpoint close to the residence of Iranian consul general in northwestern city of Peshawar, said Nasir Durrani, the provincial police chief, killing two Pakistani security guards.

Another senior police officer, Muhammad Faisal, said another nine guards were wounded.

Mr Durrani said the suicide attacker got of a car and moved toward a checkpoint outside the Iranian diplomat’s residence but was challenged by the guard and blew himself up.