U.S. counterterrorism officials believe Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud is dead following a missile attack last month, a senior intelligence official said Wednesday in the first indication the U.S. has given about the militant's fate.
Neither Pakistan nor the U.S. has officially confirmed the death of Mehsud, who commands an al Qaeda-allied movement that is blamed for scores of suicide bombings and is suspected in ain Afghanistan late last year.
Mehsud's death would be the latest successful strike against suspected terrorists by the U.S. and its allies.
The U.S. intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive security matters, said the conclusion that Mehsud is dead represents the best collective information of U.S. intelligence agencies. The official would not say what evidence the U.S. had gathered.
The statement came after days of, who first said they would prove their leader was alive and well, then reversed course and said they saw no need to prove it.
The attack by a U.S. drone came after Mehsud appeared in a video alongside the Jordanian suicide bomber who killed seven CIA employees at a remote base in Afghanistan. The bomber, Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, said he carried out the attack in retribution for the death of former Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in a U.S. drone strike last August.
Baitullah Mehsud's death gave leadership of the Pakistani Taliban to his deputy, Hakimullah Mehsud, a 28-year-old with a reputation as a particularly ruthless militant.
He has taken responsibility for a wave of brazen strikes inside Pakistan, including the bombing of the Pearl Continental hotel in the northwestern city of Peshawar last June and the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore earlier that year. There is a $590,000 bounty on his head.