Pakistani intelligence officials said on Thursday they believed Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud was alive, contradicting earlier comments that he was killed in a CIA-operated drone aircraft attack.
U.S. security officials had said they believed Hakimullah Mehsud was killed in the January attack in an area between the North and South Waziristan tribal regions close to the Afghanistan border.
A Pakistani intelligence official told Reuters news agency, it was now believed that Mehsud had survived the attack."Yes, he is alive," a senior intelligence official told Reuters.
A second Pakistani intelligence official said he also believed that Mehsud survived the missile strike, though there was no hard evidence to confirm it.
"Initially, our intelligence in the field suggested that he was killed from the wounds he sustained in the strike but we have made checks and our intelligence has now concluded that he was wounded, not dead. It's all based on intelligence."
If it is confirmed that Mehsud is alive, it would be a blow for the CIA, which had intensified pilotless drone attacks after Mehsud appeared in a video with a Jordanian double agent who later killed seven CIA employees in a suicide attack in eastern Afghanistan on Dec. 30.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik said in February that he had "credible information" that Mehsud was dead.
Taliban officials have also said conflicting things about the fate of Mehsud on different occasions.
A Taliban official in February told journalists that Mehsud had died of his wounds while being taken to the city of Karachi. But Taliban main spokesman Azam Tariq denied that.
Rahimullah Yusufzai, an expert on Taliban and tribal affairs said Mehsud might be maintaining a low profile to avoid risk of being targeted again.
The United States has greatly expanded its "covert" missile strike attacks in northwest Pakistan over the last 20 months. This year alone it has carried out more than 30 such attacks.
If he is alive, it won't be the first time Hakimullah, believed aged in his 20s, has defied reports of his death.
The first intelligence official said Hakimullah had become less effective in the hierarchy of the Pakistani Taliban, weakened by a power struggle. His movement has been restricted by fears of being attacked again.
Analysts say Wali-ur-Rehman, the main Taliban commander in South Waziristan, and Qari Hussain, have become the most powerful Taliban leaders.
AgenciesLast Mod: 29 Nisan 2010, 16:29