KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A Taliban spokesman in Afghanistan rejected reports that the son of the founder of the powerful Haqqani militant network has been killed, even as senior insurgents and members of the Pakistani government said they believe Badruddin Haqqani was dead.
Zabiullah Mujahid said in an email sent to reporters late Saturday that Haqqani is alive and in good health in Afghanistan.
The statement conflicts with assertions by a senior Taliban commander that a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan killed Haqqani. Pakistani intelligence officials have also said they are 90 percent certain he was killed in an American missile strike Tuesday in the North Waziristan region. They said their information was based on reports received from their agents in the field but acknowledged they haven’t spoken to anyone who has seen the body.
If confirmed, Haqqani’s death would mark a major blow to the organization founded by his father, Jalaluddin Haqqani, which is viewed by the U.S. as a powerful enemy in Afghanistan. The son is considered the network’s day-to-day operations commander.
The Haqqani network has been blamed for a series of high-profile attacks and kidnappings in Afghanistan.
“A number of media have reported that Badruddin Haqqani has been killed. We would like to inform all media that this rumor is not correct,” Mujahid said in the email.
“Badruddin Haqqani is in the country and his is occupied with his operational responsibilities. He is alive and healthy. The rumor about him being killed is more propaganda of the enemy,” he said.
The senior Taliban commander’s assertion that Badruddin died in a drone strike has not been independently confirmed, and the U.S. does not comment publicly on its drone program, which is widely reviled by the Pakistani public and has been a source of tension with Islamabad.
All except Mujahid spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the news.
The areas where the American drone strikes generally occur are extremely remote and dangerous, making it difficult for reporters or others to verify a particular person’s death.
Badruddin is considered a vital part of the Haqqani structure and is believed to have played an active role in kidnappings, extortion and high-profile operations in Afghanistan.
Replacing him would be a challenge but not impossible, said Daniel Markey, a Pakistan expert at the Council on Foreign Relations.
“The question would be whether anyone would be as trusted, as well-placed, would have forged the kind of longstanding connections and would have the kind of pedigree that he has,” said Markey. “This is a big hit if it’s true but it’s not going to put them out of business.”
The U.S. State Department has designated Badruddin, along with his father and brothers — Nasiruddin and Sirajuddin — as terrorists. The State Department said in May 2011 that Badruddin sits on the Miram Shah Shura, a group that controls all Haqqani network activities and coordinates attacks in southeastern Afghanistan.
Badruddin is also believed to have been responsible for the 2008 kidnapping of New York Times reporter, David Rohde, the department said.
After their father effectively retired in 2005, Badruddin and his brother Sirajuddin expanded the network into kidnapping and extortion, both highly profitable for the organization, according to a recent report by the West Point, N.Y.-based Combating Terrorism Center. Afghan intelligence authorities have released intercepts of Badruddin orchestrating an attack against the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul in 2011, the CTC said.
The U.S. has long viewed the Haqqani network as one of the biggest threats to U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan as well as the country’s long term stability. The group has shown little interest in negotiating with the Washington, and has pulled off some of the highest-profile and most complex attacks in Afghanistan, although not necessarily the most deadly.
Santana reported from Islamabad. Associated Press writers Anwarullah Khan in Khar, Pakistan, and Heidi Vogt in Kabul contributed to this report.