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New confirmation of Taliban leader's death

A deputy of Baitullah Mahsud, turned over to Pakistani forces by a tribal militia, is said to acknowledge that Mahsud was killed by a U.S. missile strike. Police grab another commander at a hospital.

August 19, 2009|Alex Rodriguez and Zulfiqar Ali

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN — The Taliban's top spokesman in Pakistan, captured this week by tribal fighters and security forces, has confirmed that the country's most-wanted militant was killed recently by a U.S. missile strike, sources familiar with his interrogation said Tuesday.

Maulvi Omar was arrested in the remote Mohmand region along the Afghan border late Monday with the help of a tribal militia, according to military sources who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the matter. Omar has served as the Taliban's primary spokesman and was a top deputy to militant chief Baitullah Mahsud.

Omar acknowledged that Mahsud was killed in a strike by an unmanned U.S. aircraft Aug. 5, intelligence sources said.

Pakistani authorities have said they are sure Mahsud was killed, but have been trying to obtain forensic evidence. The missile struck the home of Mahsud's father-in-law in South Waziristan, where the Taliban leader had been staying. His second wife was also killed in the attack.

Taliban commanders have denied that their leader was killed and have promised to present audio or video confirmation that he is alive, but have not done so.

Omar's capture marked the second arrest of a major Taliban figure within a 24-hour span. Earlier Monday, police said they arrested Taliban commander Qari Saifullah Akhtar at a hospital in Islamabad, where he was recovering from injuries suffered in a U.S. missile strike in Pakistan's tribal areas. Pakistani news media have reported that he is linked to Al Qaeda and was another of Mahsud's top aides.

The Pakistani Taliban has been struggling to regroup in the wake of Mahsud's death. Factions have been at odds over the selection of Mahsud's successor, and Pakistani authorities have reported clashes between rival groups in the country's volatile tribal areas along the Afghan border.

However, recent suicide bombings and other attacks in northwest Pakistan suggest that the Taliban is resolved to keep up the pressure on security forces. The militant group claimed responsibility for a bomb blast Monday at a gas station near the city of Peshawar that killed seven people, including three children.

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alex.rodriguez@latimes.com

Rodriguez reported from Islamabad and special correspondent Ali from Peshawar.

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