Angry tribesmen fire at drones

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, PAKISTAN -- Militants from the Pakistani Taliban met on Saturday to choose a new leader as angry tribesmen fired at US drones flying overhead a day after their chief was killed.

Hakimullah Mehsud, who had a $5-million US government bounty on him, died along with four others when a drone fired two missiles at a vehicle in the village of Dandey Darpakhel, five kilometres north of Miranshah, the main town of North Waziristan.

The Taliban's leadership committee gathered at an undisclosed location on Saturday in North Waziristan, where drones were still flying.

Witnesses in the towns of Mir Ali and Miran Shah reported that Mehsud's supporters were firing at them in anger.

Pakistani Taliban commander Hakimullah Mehsud, shown above addressing reporters in the Mamouzai area of Orakzai Agency in 2008, was killed by a US drone strike on Friday. (AP Photo)

"Tribesmen and militants were firing with light and heavy guns for an hour," Tariq Khan, a shopkeeper in Miranshah told AFP.

A security official in Miranshah confirmed the firing.
The official and residents said Mehsud was buried late Friday along with the four others killed -- his bodyguard, driver, uncle and a commander, according to a senior Taliban source.

The usually busy Miranshah bazaar opened on Saturday but shoppers stayed at home.

"Local people are scared. The death of Hakimullah Mehsud has created uncertainty. Everyone is talking about Taliban revenge," Khan said.

The two candidates to succeed Mehsud are Mullah Fazlullah, the Pakistani Taliban chief for the northwest Swat Valley, and Khan Sayed, the leader in the South Waziristan tribal area. The information came from three Pakistani intelligence officials and five Taliban commanders interviewed by phone.

Omar Khalid Khurasani, who heads the group's wing in the Mohmand tribal area, is also in the running, said two of the militant commanders. But he was not believed to be a strong candidate.

Mehsud was on the US most-wanted terrorist lists with a $5-million bounty. He's believed to have been behind a deadly suicide attack at a CIA base in Afghanistan, a failed car bombing in New York's Times Square, and brazen assaults in Pakistan that killed thousands of civilians and members of security forces.

His death will likely complicate efforts by the Pakistani government to negotiate a peace deal with the militants.

After the group's number two was killed in a drone strike in May, the Tehreek-e-Taliban as it is formally called, fiercely rejected any idea of peace talks and accused the government of cooperating with the US in the drone strikes.

In recent weeks the TTP appeared to soften its position but had still made multiple demands for preconditions to any negotiating, including the end of drone strikes in the tribal areas.

Related search: Pakistan, Taliban, drones, North Waziristan

About the author

Writer: AP and AFP