Pakistan Taliban Leader Possibly Dead In US Strike

Published January 15, 2012 1:18PM (EST)

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistani intelligence officials say they have intercepted militant radio communications indicating the Pakistani Taliban's leader may have been killed in a recent U.S. drone strike in northwest Pakistan.

The officials said Thursday they overheard Taliban militants in around a half a dozen intercepts discussing whether their chief, Hakimullah Mehsud, was killed on Jan. 12 in the North Waziristan tribal area. Some militants confirmed Mehsud was dead, and one criticized others for talking about the issue over the radio.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.

Pakistani Taliban spokesman Asimullah Mehsud denied the group's leader was killed and said he was not in the area where the drone strike occurred.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

MULTAN, Pakistan (AP) — A bomb blast ripped through a religious procession in eastern Pakistan on Sunday, killing 13 people and wounding at least 20 in the latest sectarian attack in the volatile country, police said.

Hundreds of Pakistani Shiites had gathered in the town of Khanpur in Punjab province for a traditional procession to mark the end of 40 days of mourning following the anniversary of the death of Imam Hussein, a revered seventh-century figure.

The explosion went off as the mourners came out of a mosque, said District Police Chief Sohail Chatta. The bomb appeared to have been planted ahead of time in the path of the procession, he said.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

The Pakistani Taliban and other Sunni extremist groups have in the past claimed responsibility for the bombings of Shiite religious sites and ceremonies. Many Sunni extremists in Pakistan regard Shiites as heretics.

The Taliban and other groups have carried out hundreds of bombings over the last five years that have killed thousands of Pakistani troops and civilians as part of a campaign to install a hard-line Islamist government.

The attacks are so common that the country's interior minister in December actually thanked the Taliban for acting on what he said was a "request" not to stage attacks during the Shiite rituals of Ashoura that month.

Police officer Ghazanfer Ali said the crowd of mourners started throwing rocks at police after the blast. and officers had to lob tear gas canisters into the crowd to control them.

Officials had originally thought the explosion came from a malfunctioning electric cable, but later found that there had been a bomb, he said.

Punjab law minister Rana Sanaullah said police investigators were still examining the area for clues. Security had been provided for the procession, but it had been breached, Sanaullah said.

The continuing strikes by presumed religious extremists come amid a political crisis that pits the Pakistani civilian government against the military, and which has sparked rumors of an impending coup.

Last week the military warned the government of possible "grievous consequences" ahead and Zardari took a one-day trip to Dubai that renewed speculation that he might flee the country.

Analysts say the military may be looking for the Supreme Court to push out President Asif Ali Zardari rather than risk an outright takeover.

By Salon Staff

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