ISLAMABAD - Al Qaeda wants to choose the next Pakistani Taliban leader to replace Baitullah Mehsud, a top Pakistani official said yesterday, a move that could help the terrorist group maintain its sanctuaries near the Afghan border.
Pakistani and American officials are confident that Mehsud died in a CIA missile strike last Wednesday in the South Waziristan tribal region, despite Taliban denials. Militants are said to have been meeting in recent days to determine Mehsud’s successor.
One contender, Hakimullah, phoned the Associated Press yesterday and denounced Pakistani government reports that he himself had been killed in deadly infighting among the top contenders to succeed Mehsud.
He also insisted that the Taliban chief was alive and his supporters unified.
Mehsud’s death would be a major blow for the Pakistani Taliban. He had succeeded in bringing various Islamist militant factions under a unified if loose command that posed an unprecedented threat to Pakistani security forces.
Pakistani intelligence officials and Taliban sources have told the AP that Arab fighters as well as Afghan Taliban joined shuras, or meetings, held by local militant commanders this past weekend in South Waziristan on who should succeed Mehsud.
Al Qaeda has encouraged Pakistanis to rise up against their government because of its alliance with the United States.