ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A son of the leader of a major Taliban faction attacking Western forces in Afghanistan was killed in a recent missile strike by a U.S. drone in Pakistan, security officials said on Friday.
A pilotless U.S. drone fired two missiles into a compound owned by the Haqqani militant network on Thursday in Pakistan’s North Waziristan ethnic Pashtun tribal region on the Afghan border, killing three people.
Mohammad Haqqani, a son of Jalaluddin Haqqani, head of the Haqqani network which is linked to al Qaeda and has carried out several high-profile attacks in Afghanistan, was among the dead, Pakistani security officials said.
But another son of the elder Haqqani, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is a much more high-profile target of the U.S. drones.
“Mohammad Haqqani is a younger brother of Sirajuddin. He (Mohammad) was killed in the attack,” a security official who declined to be identified told Reuters.
Veteran guerrilla commander Jalaluddin Haqqani, who is in his 70s, has passed on the leadership of his militant faction to Sirajuddin.
U.S. forces in Afghanistan describe Sirajuddin as one of their biggest enemies and the United States has posted a bounty of up to $5 million for him.
Thursday’s drone strike was in Dandi Darpakhel village near North Waziristan’s main town of Miranshah where many members of Haqqani’s extended family have been living since the U.S.-backed Afghan jihad, or holy war, against Soviet forces in the 1980s.
Sirajuddin Haqqani was known to visit the village but another Pakistani intelligence agency official said he was not there at the time of the attack.
Residents and government officials also confirmed the death of Mohammad Haqqani.
U.S. drones have targeted the village several times and 23 people, many of the members of the Haqqani family, were killed in a strike there in September 2008.
The elder Haqqani set up a sprawling madrasa or Islamic seminary in the village in the 1980s.
Jalaluddin Haqqani has had close links with Pakistani intelligence, notably the military’s main Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.
U.S. ally Pakistan officially objects to the drone strikes, saying they are a violation of its sovereignty and fuel anti-U.S. feeling which complicates Pakistan’s efforts against militancy.
But at least some strikes are carried out with the consent of Islamabad, in particular those on Pakistani Taliban militants fighting the state.
The latest missile strike came a day after Pakistan confirmed the arrest of the Afghan Taliban’s top military strategist, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, in the city of Karachi this month.
The Haqqani faction does not launch attacks in Pakistan but sends fighters across the border into Afghanistan from its stronghold in lawless North Waziristan.
The United States has stepped up missile strikes in North Waziristan since a Jordanian suicide bomber killed seven CIA employees at a U.S. base across the border in the Afghan province of Khost in late December.
Separately, two pro-Taliban militants suspected of involvement in several high-profiles attacks in Pakistan were killed in a shootout with police in the central city of Faisalabad after they refused to surrender.
“They plotted more attacks. They opened fire on police when we intercepted them. Both of them have been killed,” senior police official Sarfraz Falki told Reuters.
Additional reporting by Alamgir Bitani; Editing by Robert Birsel