Reports continue to circulate claiming that Hakimullah Mehsud, the current leader of the Pakistani Taliban (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan), is dead after suffering wounds from a mid-January drone strike. Several Pakistani officials have claimed that Mehsud had died sometime at the end of January based on "word of mouth" (aka HUMINT) confirmation, according to a report today from ABC News. However, US intelligence officials have yet to confirm the EKIA reports and the TTP was quick to issue a statement denying the death of their leader. According to Bill Roggio at the Long War Journal, reports of Mehsud's death are premature. Hakimullah's spokesman (Azam Tariq) issued a statement saying, "Hakimullah is alive and safe." Additionally, one of Mehsud's subordinate commanders, and a potential successor, (Qari Hussein Mehsud) called the Pakistani press to issue a similar statement.
For further background on Mehsud and the key role he plays within TTP, check out JD's excellent profile here and this article from the CTC Sentinel.
If in fact the reports are true, we are likely to see another potential struggle over who would take over leadership of the TTP (similar to the reported infighting that occurred after the August 2009 death of the former TTP leader, Baitullah Mehsud). The top three contenders to assume the key role include:
- Wali-ur-Rehman, the young deputy leader who functions as the group's operational commander
- Qari Hussein, who oversees the suicide bomb program and is Hakimullah's cousin
- Saeed Khan Mamozai, a local commander from Orakzai tribal agency
Al Sahwa will continue to monitor open-source reporting and provide updates and analysis on this critical story as more information becomes available.