August 7, 2009 / 8:13 AM / 10 years ago

FACTBOX - Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud presumed dead

REUTERS - Pakistani officials believe Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, who has a $5 million U.S. bounty on his head, was probably killed with his wife and bodyguards in a missile attack two days ago.

Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud speaks to reporters in Pakistan's South Waziristan tribal region in this May 24, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Stringer/Files

An intelligence officer in South Waziristan told Reuters that Mehsud’s funeral had already taken place, while Pakistani media cited their own security sources saying Mehsud was dead.

Following are some details about Mehsud.

— In late 2007, Mehsud proclaimed himself leader of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Movement of Taliban of Pakistan, grouping 13 factions. Pakistani Taliban leaders have sworn allegiance to Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.

— Mehsud became Public Enemy Number One after launching suicide attacks in 2007 against the military and politicians.

— The government of ex-president Pervez Musharraf and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency both saw Mehsud as chief suspect in the 2007 assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Mehsud denied it.

— The United States had offered a reward of $5 million for information leading to Mehsud’s location or arrest. The Pakistan government put a $615,000 bounty on his head.

— Regarded as an ally of al Qaeda, Mehsud has assembled militants from Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Punjabi based group that has provided al Qaeda’s foot soldiers in Pakistan, along with Uzbeks and other Central Asian fighters within al Qaeda’s network. Together with his own men, Mehsud is reckoned to have 10,000 to over 20,000 fighters with him in mountainous South Waziristan.

— Pakistani officials say Mehsud is helped by arch-rival India, but diplomats in Islamabad are sceptical and see that as an attempt to dislodge Indian influence in Afghanistan.

— Critics say Pakistan’s army tolerated Mehsud for too long, and deride a 2005 peace deal, saying militants were paid off.

— In June, U.S. drones began attacking Mehsud territory more frequently after Pakistan’s government ordered its army to pursue Mehsud. Pakistani forces have bombarded Taliban positions and sealed off roads, but there has been no all-out assault.

— Diplomats say Mehsud’s elimination would mark a major coup for Pakistan, but doubt it will help Western forces fighting the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.

— Mehsud was born in 1974 in Bannu in North West Frontier Province. His ancestral village of Shaga is in South Waziristan, the poorest of seven Federally Administered Tribal Areas from the ethnic Pashtun belt straddling the border with Afghanistan.

— Mehsud belongs to the Bromikhel, a traditional sub-clan of the fiercely independent Mehsuds. The son of a minor cleric, Mehsud was educated to the age of 12 in a madrasa, or religious school, is barely literate and worked as a truck driver.

— Journalists who have met Mehsud describe him as physically unimposing, round-faced beneath a beard. He also suffered from diabetes. He has two brothers among his followers.

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