Pakistani Militant Leader Is Killed
Tuesday, July 24, 2007; 1:30 PM
QUETTA, Pakistan -- A Taliban veteran of Guantanamo Bay who became one of Pakistan's most-wanted rebel leaders killed himself with a hand grenade Tuesday after he was cornered by security forces, officials said.
The death of Abdullah Mehsud, a stout, round-faced man in his early 30s who lost a leg years ago fighting for the Taliban, was a boost for Pakistani authorities under pressure from the U.S. to crack down on Taliban and al-Qaida militants fighting on both sides of the Afghan border.
Mehsud was wanted in "many terrorist cases," Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema said. "He was a supporter of the al-Qaida terror network and an active Taliban commander in Pakistan."
A Pakistani intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to reporters, said Mehsud was intercepted on his way back from Afghanistan's Helmand province, where he had fought with the Taliban for the past year or more.
Police surrounded Mehsud and three other men before dawn in the home of an Islamist politician in Zhob, a town 160 miles from the southwestern city of Quetta, officials said. Cheema said security forces had trailed Mehsud for three days before moving in.
"Thanks be to God that only he was blown up and our men were safe," Zhob police chief Atta Mohammed said.
Mehsud was incarcerated in the jail for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after he was captured by U.S.-allied Afghan forces in northern Afghanistan in December 2001. It remains unclear why he was released from Guantanamo in March 2004.
He quickly took up arms again, leading local and foreign militants in Pakistan's South Waziristan, a mountainous stronghold of militants in the tribal belt considered a possible hideout for al-Qaida leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri.
Mehsud was wanted for the kidnapping that year of two Chinese engineers, one of whom died in a rescue raid by Pakistani commandos. But he escaped a manhunt by the Pakistani army.
Zahid Hussain, an author and expert on Pakistan's militant groups, said Mehsud's defiance made him a hero among fellow militants _ even after he adopted a lower profile.
"Even if he wasn't seen, he was an inspiration," Hussain said. "In that way, (his death is) a big gain for the Pakistani forces."
The intelligence official said there was no evidence Mehsud organized violence that has flared across Pakistan since a deadly military raid on a radical mosque in Islamabad this month. More than 300 people have died, most of them security forces.