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Pakistani Taliban leader disputes claims of deaths

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Interior minister said military killed Taliban official, targeted two others
  • "None of our senior leaders have died," mullah says
  • Friday's assault was part of government effort to rout Taliban
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Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) -- A senior militant Taliban leader refuted reports Monday that he had been killed in a Pakistani military airstrike in Pakistan's tribal region along the Afghan border.

Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik told Pakistan's Express TV on Saturday that the Pakistani military had killed Fateh Mohammad, the Taliban leader in Pakistan's Swat Valley, who fled the area nearly a year ago after the military launched an offensive there.

The interior minister said the attack also targeted two other Taliban leaders, Mullah Faqir Mohammad and Qari Ziar Rehman, and added that he would be surprised if the two men had survived.

On Monday, however, Mullah Faqir Mohammad said that all three men are alive.

"All media reports regarding our deaths are just propaganda, and none of our senior leaders have died," he said.

Friday's strike was in Mohmand Agency, one of seven districts in Pakistan's tribal region along the Afghan border. The day after the offensive, a Pakistani military official said that about 25 militants were killed in the assault. The official asked not to be identified because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

Military officials said many militants had escaped to Mohmand in August 2008 after the start of an offensive targeting the Taliban in Bajaur, the district just north of Mohmand, Maj. Gen. Tariq Khan said last week. The military captured the Taliban headquarters in Bajaur.

Mullah Faqir Mohammad, who led the Pakistani Taliban in Bajaur, is considered one of the most senior Taliban commanders in the wake of the death this year of Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud.

Afghan Taliban leader Rehman has ties to the Pakistani Taliban in both Bajaur and Mohmand. He leads fighters in Afghanistan's Kunar province.

The government's assault Friday was part of its ongoing effort to rout the Taliban from within its borders.

Last week, a senior Afghan Taliban leader was arrested in Karachi, Pakistan, a senior Pakistani military official said. It was the sixth such high-profile Taliban arrest in the past month, officials said. He also asked not to be identified because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

CNN's Kiran Khalid and Reza Sayah and journalist Nasir Dawar contributed to this report.

 
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