Taliban leader shot dead in Waziristan

February 25, 2014 - 12:00:00 am
MIRANSHAH: A top commander of the Pakistani Taliban was shot dead by unidentified gunmen yesterday in the militant stronghold of North Waziristan, security sources and family members in the tribal region said.

Asmatullah Shaheen was on the Pakistan army’s list of twenty most wanted Taliban commanders, and had a $120,000 bounty placed on his head since 2009.

He was appointed as interim chief of the Pakistan Taliban following the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud, the previous leader, in a US drone strike on November 1.

Shaheen’s killers ambushed his car as it passed through Dargah Mandi, a village 5km northwest of Miranshah, the regional capital of North Waziristan.

“Unidentified gunmen in another car shot and killed Shaheen as well as the driver and guards,” a family member said.

Security sources also confirmed the deaths.

The Pakistani Taliban insurgency is fighting to topple Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s democratically elected government and impose Sharia law in the nuclear-armed nation.

Attacks have been on the rise since Sharif came to power in May, promising a negotiated end to violence. His stance unnerved global powers already worried that withdrawal of most US-led troops from Afghanistan in 2014 would leave a security vacuum.

Peace talks between the Pakistani government and Taliban insurgents began on February 6 but broke down last week after insurgents said they executed 23 men from a government paramilitary force in revenge for the killing of their fighters by army forces.

Shaheen was considered one of the proponents of peace talks, according to sources.

The failure to reach a negotiated settlement has raised the spectre of a major military offensive in North Waziristan, a region bordering Afghanistan where Al Qaeda-linked militants are based.

On Sunday, Pakistani fighter jets attacked suspected militant hideouts in tribal areas on the Afghan border.