(Reuters) - A U.S. drone fired two missiles on Thursday at a compound in northwest Pakistan where Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud was believed to have been, but it was not clear if he was among 12 militants killed, Pakistani officials said.
Mehsud became overall head of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, (Taliban Movement of Pakistan) last August after the death of his predecessor, Baitullah Mehsud, in a similar missile strike by a CIA-operated drone.
Mehsud is an ethnic Pashtun tribal name and Hakimullah and Baitullah were not related.
Here are some facts about Hakimullah Mehsud:
- Before his elevation as Taliban head, Mehsud was commander of about 8,000 militants in the Kurram, Orakzai and Khyber ethnic Pashtun tribal regions.
- Mehsud, in his early 30s, has a sharp face framed by shaggy hair and a disarming grin but is considered more ruthless than his predecessor. He is media savvy and is known for showing off to reporters his prowess as a driver and marksman. He vowed to take revenge for Baitullah’s killing.
- Hakimullah claimed responsibility for a daring suicide attack on Peshawar’s Pearl Continental hotel last year that killed seven people, including two U.N. workers. His fighters regularly ambush trucks taking supplies through the Khyber Pass to Afghan government and Western forces across the border.
- He works closely with Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a group linked to al Qaeda that has its roots in central Punjab province.
- Hakimullah lost all his main bases in his South Waziristan bastion in a Pakistani army offensive launched in mid-October.
- His whereabouts are not known but he is believed to have fled from South Waziristan to seek shelter with allies, possibly in North Waziristan.
- Mehsud appeared in a video that surfaced on the weekend showing him sitting beside a Jordanian double agent who crossed over Pakistan’s border and killed seven CIA employees in an suicide bomb attack in eastern Afghanistan on December 30.
- Mehsud’s appearance with the bomber created the impression that his group played a major role in the second biggest attack on the CIA in its history.
- But analysts doubted his group had the sophistication to trick the CIA and at most provided organizational support for an operation most likely masterminded by al Qaeda.
- Mehsud was born in Kotkai village in South Waziristan and got his early education at a madrasa, or religious school.
- He fought against U.S. forces in Afghanistan after the 2001 ousting of the Taliban and told reporters he had battled NATO forces in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.
- He later returned to Pakistan’s ethnic Pashtun tribal lands along the border and began fighting the Pakistani security forces.
Editing by Robert Birsel and Sanjeev Miglani
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