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Pakistani officials: Taliban's Mehsud alive despite death reports

By Reza Sayah, CNN
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Pakistani Taliban leader alive or dead?
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Hakimullah Mehsud spotted in North Waziristan, senior military official says
  • Report contradicts recent reports Pakistani Taliban leader was killed in drone strike
  • North Waziristan is one of seven districts in Pakistan's tribal region along Afghan border
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Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud is alive and was recently seen in Pakistan's tribal region, officials said Thursday contradicting recent reports he was killed in a drone strike.

A Pakistan intelligence official and a senior military official told CNN that Mehsud survived the aerial strike in January.

He has been spotted in North Waziristan, one of seven districts in Pakistan's tribal region along the Afghan border, the military official said.

U.S. officials were skeptical of the report. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told reporters he had "certainly seen no evidence that the person you speak of is operational today or is executing of exerting authority over the Pakistan Taliban as he once did. "So I don't know if that reflects him being alive or dead, but he clearly is not running the Pakistani Taliban anymore."

In February, a U.S. intelligence official and three Taliban sources told CNN that Mehsud had been killed in the January drone strike. But the spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, Azam Tariq, had always denied reports of Mehsud's death.

The officials asked not to be named because they are not authorized to speak to the media.

Taliban leaders have denied leaders' deaths in the past. Tariq always maintained that Mehsud was alive, but never provided any proof. When former Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a U.S. drone strike last year, cell phone video of his body was aired on Pakistani TV.

However, the militants never changed their stance that Hakimullah Mehsud had survived, though they would not let reporters interview him. TheTaliban never named his successor, fueling rumors that he was still alive.

Hakimullah Mehsud got Washington's attention when he appeared in a video with Humam Al Balawi, the Jordanian doctor turned suicide bomber who killed seven CIA agents in eastern Afghanistan in December last year.

Journalist Nasir Dawar contributed to this report.

 
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