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Pakistani Taliban leader's death denied

Refuting media reports about Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud's death, Mehsud's 'spokesman' today said the terrorist leader was in good health and had a busy time on Eid yesterday.

world Updated: Oct 02, 2008 12:48 IST

Confusion prevails over the fate of Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, with his 'spokesman' on Thursday refuting media reports that the militant had died of renal failure and saying that he spent a busy Eid.

Several Pakistani TV channels had on Wednesday reported that 34-year-old Mehsud, accused of planning the December 2007 assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, had died of renal failure.

However, a letter received by a Peshawar-based journalist from Mehsud's 'spokesman' on Thursday said the terrorist leader was in good health and had a busy time on Eid, which was celebrated on Wednesday.

According to the letter, Mehsud wanted to talk to the media to dispel rumours of his death but had dropped the idea on the advice of his aides.

"Presently he is avoiding journalists because of security reasons," said the letter, which is written in Urdu and carries no name. It is only signed "from the spokesman".

Mehsud had previously met journalists at unidentified places in tribal areas, which had led to criticism of the media for "glorifying terrorists".

A BBC report also said Mehsud's deputy Zulfikar Mehsud had called them from an unidentified location and said his commander had celebrated Eid by taking part in shooting and car racing competitions.

Traditionally, youth in tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan take part in shooting and car racing on mud tracks. The winners are usually awarded goats.

Despite the denial of Mehsud's death by the Taliban, several journalists based in the restive North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and tribal areas believe otherwise. They think the Taliban will announce his death once they find his successor.

"I believe that he would have called journalists to tell them that he is alive... he had been in contact with several journalists. But this mysterious silence make us believe that he may have died or has very serious health problems," journalist Ahmed Khan told IANS.

Earlier, there had been reports that Mehsud was diabetic and also suffers from hepatitis C, due to which his kidneys do not function properly.

In August, his spokesman Maulvi Omer had admitted that the Taliban commander was seriously ill but had recovered.

However, the latest letter says Mehsud is not only in good health but has also married for the second time. Mehsud has no children from his first wife, who is said to be the daughter of an Afghan Mujahideen commander.

First Published: Oct 02, 2008 12:18 IST