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Pakistani Taliban leader survives strike, residents say

Baitullah Mahsud was at the funeral of a militant commander but left before a suspected U.S. drone attack that killed 80 people, residents in South Waziristan say.

June 25, 2009|Zulfiqar Ali

PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN — The chief of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mahsud, and close associates attended the funeral of a militant commander in the country's tribal areas but left before a suspected U.S. drone attack that killed dozens of people, residents said Wednesday.

The area where the attack occurred, the Bekh Mary Langara region of South Waziristan, is remote and there was no independent confirmation of the number of casualties. But residents said about 80 people, at least 30 of them militants, died in the attack Tuesday.

Doctors at the Agency Headquarters Hospital in Miram Shah, North Waziristan, said that 27 people wounded in what was believed to be a missile strike had been brought in for treatment. The wounded included some children, they said.

Reports said that senior Taliban commander Maulvi Sangeen Zadran, who also was at the funeral, had been killed, but militant sources denied that.

However, Taliban leader Noorullah in Miram Shah confirmed the deaths of three other militant commanders. There were unconfirmed reports that a Mahsud lieutenant, Qari Hussein, had been killed.

The attack came when a large number of people were assembled for the burial of an Afghan commander who had been killed hours earlier in a similar strike. Some residents said that some Taliban commanders, including Mahsud, had left the venue before the strike.

"About 5,000 people participated in the funeral prayer, and main commanders, including Baitullah, had left the place when missiles were fired," said one of the wounded at the Miram Shah hospital, who declined to be identified.

Qari Zainuddin, a Mahsud rival killed by his bodyguard, was buried Wednesday.

A spokesman for Mahsud said Zainuddin was killed for supporting the Pakistani government.

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Ali is a special correspondent.

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