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'Pak Taliban chief releases audio message'

world Updated: Jan 17, 2010 09:14 IST
IANS
Pakistan Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud

An audio message purportedly of Pakistan Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud contradicts media reports that the Islamist militant leader had died in a US drone missile strike three days ago in Pakistan's restive tribal region.

In an audio message sent to reporters on Saturday evening, a voice claiming to be that of the militant commander said that he was "alive and in good health".

The recording further said that Mehsud was not present in the area when the drone attack on a house and adjacent seminary killed at least 13 people in South Waziristan on Thursday.

The statement came a day after Mehsud warned in another audio-tape message that the media were being used by "our enemies" to spread rumours that he had been killed.

Mehsud also warned the government in Islamabad of dire consequences if US drone missile strikes continue, the Dawn newspaper reported on Saturday.

"The Pakistan government is letting the blood of innocent people be shed in return for dollars," Mehsud said. "We are forced to take revenge on the Pakistan government for the killing of innocents."

The US military has increased its missile attacks against Taliban and Al Qaeda in Pakistan's tribal region. There have been 10 drone strikes this month alone.

In the latest attacks, 11 people were killed and several injured in two separate strikes late Friday.

Five people were killed and three injured when a US drone fired four missiles on a house in Mir Ali area in North Waziristan, Dawn reported.

Six people died in the second attack that took place in Mirkhani, an area along the border of North and South Waziristan.

The US missile campaign has eliminated dozens of Taliban and Al Qaeda militants, but it has also killed many civilians.

The loss of innocent lives has fuelled anger among the Pakistani public, which is increasingly pressuring the government to end cooperation with the US if it continues the drone attacks.

Islamabad officially condemns the US strikes, but many analysts believe the country's military and intelligence agencies are aiding the US intelligence services with information on possible targets.