Baitullah Mehsud still alive, claims close aide

London, Aug 8 : A lieutenant of Pakistan''s enemy no. 1 Baitullah Mehsud on Saturday rejected reports of the Pak-Taliban chief's death in a US drone strike.

BBC quoted Commander Hakimullah Mehsud - who some analysts suggest may be positioning himself to succeed Baitullah Mehsud - as saying that the reports of Mehsud's death were the work of US and Pakistani intelligence agencies.

"The news regarding our respected chief is propaganda by our enemies. We know what our enemies want to achieve - it''s the joint policy of the ISI and FBI - they want our chief to come out in the open so they can achieve their target," Mehsud said.

He said the Pakistani leader had decided to adopt the tactics of Osama bin Laden and stay silent. He said he would issue a message in the next few days.

The US has said that it is increasingly confident that its forces had managed to kill Mehsud, while Pakistan''s foreign minister said on Friday he was "pretty certain" Baitullah Mehsud had been killed.

Neither side has provided evidence to back up their claims so far.

The missile fired by the US drone hit the home of the Taliban chief''s father-in-law, Malik Ikramuddin, in the Zangarha area on Wednesday.

On Friday, another of Baitullah Mehsud''s aides had told the press by telephone that his leader had been killed along with his second wife in the attack.

The White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs, on Friday said that the Pakistani people would be safer if he was dead.

"There seems to be a growing consensus among credible observers that he is indeed dead," he told reporters.

Believed to command as many as 20,000 pro-Taliban militants, Mehsud came to worldwide attention in the aftermath of the 2007 Red Mosque siege in Islamabad.

He has been blamed by both Pakistan and the US for a series of suicide bomb attacks in the country, as well as suicide attacks on Western forces across the border in Afghanistan.
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