MIRAMSHAH, Nov 1: The chief of the Pakistani Taliban was killed in a drone strike at his marbled residence near Miramshah, headquarters of the volatile North Waziristan tribal region, on Friday evening, government and security officials said.

Although there was no official confirmation and there was no way to independently confirm the death of Hakeemullah Mehsud, head of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, an umbrella organisation of Pakistani militant groups, government and security officials citing intelligence reports said the 34-year-old militant leader was among five people killed in the strike at his house in Dandi Darpakhel, near Miramshah.

The officials said the strike occurred just when a shura of militant commanders was under way at Hakeemullah’s house of marble floor and green lawns in the evening. Four missiles were fired into the compound.

The drone strike occurred just a day before a peace delegation was to leave for the tribal region to hold talks with the Taliban. The delegation had been stopped from proceeding to the tribal region, government officials said.

A reporter working for an Arabic language television channel on his twitter account quoted TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid as confirming the death of Hakeemullah Mehsud. Jihadists on social media mourned the death of Hakeemullah Mahsud and vowed to avenge it on the US and Pakistan.

“Hakeemullah used to frequent the house, which he had built over a year ago,” said an official. “Our reports said he was there at the time of the drone strike and he is dead.”

Some militants said the TTP chief was among those killed in the strike.

The officials said five militant commanders had been killed and two wounded. Hakeemullah’s uncle and his bodyguard were among the dead, according to intelligence reports.

An official said the dead included Abdullah Behar, who had replaced Hakeemullah’s deputy Latif Mahsud after he was snatched by US forces last month while being escorted by Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security to a safe house.

There was no word from militants about the well-being or whereabouts of their chief.

People in Miramshah said that although the town was under curfew, militants rushed to the site of the drone strike and retrieved the bodies and the wounded.

Reports of Hakeemullah’s death in the past eventually turned out to be baseless.

“He (Hakeemullah) was a main character behind much of the violence in Pakistan,” a government official said. “Now we may have lesser characters to deal with.”

A security official said the Americans were after him and they had succeeded.

Hakeemullah had figured in a video alongside a Jordanian suicide bomber who had struck a CIA camp in Afghanistan’s southeastern province of Khost in December 2009. Eight intelligence operatives were killed in that attack.

The government of Pakistan had announced a head money of Rs50 million on Hakeemullah in November 2009, three months after he had succeeded Baitullah Mehsud who was eliminated in a drone strike in August of that year.

A resident of Kotkai, South Waziristan, Hakeemullah was the eldest of four brothers. His brother Kaleeemullah was killed in an encounter with security forces in Makeen, South Waziristan.

The United States added Hakeemullah to its list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists in September 2010 and put a $50 million bounty on his head.

Hakeemullah Mehsud, who like his late leader, Baitullah Mehsud, had studied at a madressah, rose through the ranks, gaining a reputation for bravery and aggressiveness. He led the TTP’s Khyber and Orakzai tribal regions before succeeding Baitullah as head of Pakistan’s largest and most violent militant organisation.

While Pakistan officially condemned the drone strike, government and security officials heaved a sigh of relief. “He was the worst of all,” a security official said of the TTP leader. “He was responsible for the bloodshed and death of thousands of Pakistanis. For us, it’s good riddance.”

Some government officials believe that while the Americans were on the hunt for the TTP head honcho for a long time, the seizure of his close confidant Latif Mahsud by the US forces from Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) might have given them vital intelligence to track him down. “Latif may have given them vital information about the whereabouts of his boss,” a security official said.

Other officials said that they had long suspected TTP’s link with “hostile agencies”, but Latif’s capture and revelations by the Americans about NDS (the Afghan agency) involvement had proved them right. “That the NDS was hiring TTP to do dirty work for them proved us right and the revelations have come from none else than the Americans. No wonder the Afghans are angry,” the official commented.

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