Pakistani Taliban chief alive according to group’s spokesman

Villagers gather at the rubble of houses belonging to supporters of Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud.
Pakistan’s Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud is alive, the group’s spokesman told CNN on Tuesday — disputing the Obama administration’s contention that he was killed by a CIA missile strike.

Spokesman Maulvi Umar said Mehsud is ill, but safe at an undisclosed location. Once Mehsud is better, he will speak to reporters, Umar said. A day earlier, a senior U.S. official told CNN that the government was convinced Mehsud was dead based on various indicators at the scene of Wednesday night’s attack. It was an extremely warm night and a short, stocky man meeting Mehsud’s description sought refuge from the heat on the roof of the home of Mehsud’s father-in-law, according to the official.

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Then, the man in question began having his legs massaged on the roof of the home, which indicated to intelligence officials that it was Mehsud, because his legs ached from diabetes and he frequently sought relief. At that point, according to the senior U.S. official, the CIA moved ahead with the strike, acting on a pre-approved order from the president to attack when U.S. intelligence officials thought they had Mehsud in their sights. Umar, the Pakistan Taliban spokesman, told CNN that Mehsud does suffer from diabetes and that a drone attack had taken place at his father-in-law’s house. Unlike U.S. officials, Pakistan’s foreign and interior ministers have said the government was waiting to conduct DNA analysis to confirm the identity of a man likely killed in the airstrike. Umar also disputed the government’s contention that Mehsud’s deputies Hakeemullah Mehsud and Wali ur Rehman Mehsud were dead. Interior Minister Rehman Malik told CNN on Saturday that one of the two men — thought to be potential successors — died in a shootout at a meeting of senior Taliban leaders in south Waziristan. Umar accused the government of spreading propaganda. “The government is playing a game and trying to trick Baitullah into coming out of hiding by using this propaganda so they can kill him,” he said.

In recent weeks, there has been a dramatic escalation in the number of unmanned drones the CIA is using for missile strikes in the rugged south Waziristan tribal region where Mehsud was reported killed. On Tuesday, 10 Taliban militants were killed and three others wounded in a drone attack that targeted a house thought to belong to Mehsud, a Pakistani intelligence official said.