*Source: DTN News / Toronto Star By Ayesha Akram in Lahore, Pakistan ~ Rick Westhead in New Delhi
(NSI News Source Info) LAHORE, Pakistan - August 8, 2009: He was one of the most wanted terrorists in the world. Although he was rarely seen, his words inspired fear and his activities made global headlines. In this made from video taken on May 24, 2008, Pakistan's top Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, right, talks to the media in Kotkai, a village in the Pakistani tribal area along the Afghan border. According to Kafayat Ullah, a Taliban commander and aide to Mehsud, Friday Aug. 7, 2009, Mehsud, who led a violent campaign of suicide attacks and assassinations against the Pakistani government, was killed in a U.S. missile strike on Wednesday Aug. 5, 2009. Now Baitullah Mehsud is dead, felled by a CIA missile this week in the South Waziristan tribal region. The death of the 39-year-old Taliban leader is a crucial victory for both Pakistani and U.S. forces, who have been on the hunt for him for months. Kafayut Ullah, a spokesman for Mehsud, confirmed yesterday his leader had been slain. The voice of another Taliban commander based in South Waziristan broke as he talked about the death of "Amir Sahib," as Mehsud was affectionately called. (The endearment means "beloved leader.") The commander said losing Mehsud was like losing a father, and the Taliban fighters felt like orphans without him. Mehsud, the most wanted man in the Indian subcontinent, had been accused of orchestrating suicide attacks, an assault on a police academy in Lahore, and the assassination in 2007 of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto. "Baitullah Mehsud is somebody who has well earned his label as a murderous thug," said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs. "He has planned and helped carry out some of the most heinous acts of terrorism and violence that we have seen in Pakistan. He has killed scores of innocent men, women and children and is supposed to have plotted the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. If he is dead, without a doubt the people of Pakistan will be safer as a result." No Pakistan government officials have seen the body, and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said the government is trying to verify Mehsud's death. But sources said that by the time Mehsud's death was confirmed by Taliban, he had already been buried with his wife, also killed by the missile. The funeral was attended by only Mehsud's closest companions. "The site of Mehsud's grave has also been kept secret since the Tehrik-e-Taliban want to attract minimum attention to his death," said one intelligence source, who has intimate knowledge of the party. Another intelligence source said the unmarked graves are in Nargosey, near where he and his wife died. Taliban sources in South Waziristan confirm the upper echelon of the Taliban convened an important meeting late yesterday to decide on their next leader. Three names from amongst Mehsud's trusted aides have emerged so far – Hakimullah Mehsud, Wali-u-Rehman and Azmat Ullah. Of the three, Hakimullah Mehsud, a senior lieutenant in Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, is considered the front-runner, due to his close affiliation with Baitullah Mehsud. Prior to 2008, little was known about Hakimullah. He is described as a shadowy commander, immensely loyal to Baitullah Mehsud and even more ruthless and fearless than him. He is called the "mobile commander" for his ability to turn up in various tribal regions and lead operations from there. Mehsud's death is a huge setback for the Pakistani Taliban, according to political analyst Hassan Askari. "He was seen as invincible," Askari said. "He was able to murder Benazir, stage countless suicide attacks and yet no one was able to touch him. Now his murder has sent a message to his party: intelligence is getting stronger and the next victim could be anyone." A local tribesman said Mehsud was being treated for kidney pain at his father-in-law's house on Wednesday when the missile struck, according to Dawn, a leading English newspaper in Pakistan. The U.S. had offered a $5 million reward for Mehsud and came close to killing him previously. In June, it launched a missile attack during the funeral for another Taliban leader, but Mehsud had already left. Last year, in a rare news conference in the town of Kot Kai in South Waziristan, Mehsud defended the Taliban's use of suicide bombers. "America is bombing us and we are facing cruelty, so we will support these suicide attacks," he said. "(Suicide bombers) are our atom bombs. Although the infidels have the atom bombs, our atom bombs are the finest in the world." He also talked about his death. "It is the top desire of my life to obtain martyrdom. I have strong feelings for martyrdom in my heart," he told reporters. "To be a martyr, to be wounded or arrested – we consider it as a sacrifice."