Peshawar: A US drone attack Friday killed five militants in Pakistan's lawless North Waziristan tribal region even as reports swirled about the possible death of Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud in a similar strike yesterday.
US drones fired at least four missiles at a militant compound in Khaisore village of Mirali sub-division, about 30 km from Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan.
At least five militants were killed in the strike, officials said. Local residents said drones were seen hovering over the area after the attack.
They said five pilotless planes flew over the area and two of them carried out the strike.
A witness said the drones fired the missiles at short intervals. Local residents said the death toll could rise as the attack destroyed the militant compound. It was the ninth
drone strike in the area in a fortnight.
Today's strike occurred near the area where another drone attack killed 15 militants yesterday. That attack was followed by widespread speculation that Tehrik-e-Taliban
Pakistan chief Hakimullah Mehsud was among the dead.
Unnamed government and security officials were quoted by Dawn News channel as saying that Mehsud was killed in yesterday's attack. However, this was denied by Taliban
spokesman Azam Tariq and other militant commanders. Asked about reports of Hakimullah's death, Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters in Islamabad: "There is nothing confirmed as yet. The moment it is confirmed, an official response will come."
The Taliban also released to the media in northwest Pakistan an audio recording purportedly made by Mehsud today in which he said he was alive.
The recording featured Mehsud threatening to carry out
more attacks targeting the security forces in retaliation for
the US drone attacks.
"I am telling the nation that drone strikes are
against Pakistan's sovereignty and the rulers will be
responsible for any drastic step taken by the Taliban in
retaliation," said Mehsud.
He claimed the Pakistan government is killing innocent
tribesmen at the behest of the US. He said the war in
Waziristan was not over as the militants are intact and would
avenge the killing of innocent people.
Mehsud also accused the government of using the media
as a propaganda tool against the Taliban. However, it could
not be independently verified when the recording was made.
Mehsud was named the chief of the Pakistani Taliban
after his predecessor Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a US
drone strike in August last year.
First Published: Saturday, January 16, 2010, 00:13