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Gunmen kill senior Pakistan Taliban commander: officials

  • This undated photograh shows Asmatullah Shaheen (C), a former interim chief of a militant group, talking with media in an undisclosed location in northwest Pakistan. AFP PHOTO/Thir KHAN

MIranSHAH, Pakistan: Unknown gunmen killed a senior commander of the Pakistani Taliban who had a government bounty on his head on Monday, as a suicide bomb attack targeting the Iranian consulate in Peshawar left two dead.

Asmatullah Shaheen, who was believed to be in his mid-40s and was a former interim chief of Pakistan's Taliban, had a 10-million-rupee ($95,000) bounty payable for his death.

Hours later a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the Iranian consulate, in Peshawar, the main city in the restive northwest, killing two paramilitary troops and wounding ten other people.

No one has yet claimed responsibility for either attack and it is not clear whether they are linked.

Shaheen was ambushed in Dargah Mandi village near MIranshah, the main town in the troubled North Waziristan tribal district, with a local security official blaming a rival militant group.

Despite his seniority, he was a highly controversial figure within the Pakistani Taliban.

Observers do not believe his death will have a major impact on the future of stalled peace talks with the government that began this month.

"Unknown attackers opened fire on Asmatullah Shaheen's car. He along with three associates died on the spot," a security official in MIranshah told AFP on condition of anonymity.

A close relative of Shaheen told AFP that in addition to those killed, two other people travelling in the car were critically wounded.

The attackers fled in a separate vehicle, the security official said.

Shaheen was leader of the Bhittani tribe and also chairman of the Taliban's supreme council for more than two years.

But a militant source close to Shaheen told AFP he was removed from the post in December after developing differences with several militant commanders.

Shaheen gained notoriety after claiming responsibility for a suicide attack on a Shiite procession in Pakistan's largest city Karachi, which killed 43 people and wounded more than 100 in December 2009. 

He was responsible for storming a paramilitary outpost in the northwestern district of Tank in 2011, killing one soldier and kidnapping 15. Eleven of the detainees were later executed while the rest escaped.

An intelligence official in Peshawar said Shaheen was also wanted for masterminding other attacks on Pakistani troops that included suicide attacks. 

Imtiaz Gul, an security analyst and author of "The Most Dangerous Place - Pakistan's Lawless Frontier", told AFP that the killing was likely the result of Shaheen's several enmities.

"Militant groups have fought against each other in the past and the killing of Asmatullah Shaheen is apparently because of those internal differences," he said.

In the Peshawar attack, a suicide bomber carrying five kilogrammes of explosives blew himself up after being stopped at a checkpoint by paramilitary troops, bomb disposal squad official Shafqat Malik told AFP.

The bomber wanted to target the consulate but blew himself up when intercepted, he added.

The attack took place in the upmarket University Town area of the northwestern city, where many non-government organisations are also based.

"We have two bodies of paramilitary soldiers and ten wounded have been admitted to hospital," said Farhad Khan, a spokesman for Khyber Teaching Hospital where the casualties were taken.

Earlier this month Pakistan entered into talks with the Taliban aimed at ending their seven-year insurgency.

But the militant group continued carrying out attacks on a near-daily basis. The dialogue was suspended after the insurgents claimed they had executed 23 kidnapped soldiers in a northwestern tribal region. 

Since then the air force has been carrying out attacks in the volatile tribal regions which border Afghanistan, killing dozens.

Imran Khan, chief of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf party which leads the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, said it was now up to the Taliban to save the talks by announcing a ceasefire.

"The Taliban should announce a ceasefire to save the dialogue process," said Khan, who is often accused of being sympathetic to the militants.

"The government should talk to the Taliban groups who want to talk. But they should take action against the groups who don't want to talk," he added.

 
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Summary

Unknown gunmen killed a senior commander of the Pakistani Taliban who had a government bounty on his head on Monday, as a suicide bomb attack targeting the Iranian consulate in Peshawar left two dead.

Asmatullah Shaheen, who was believed to be in his mid-40s and was a former interim chief of Pakistan's Taliban, had a 10-million-rupee ($95,000) bounty payable for his death.

Hours later a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the Iranian consulate, in Peshawar, the main city in the restive northwest, killing two paramilitary troops and wounding ten other people.

An intelligence official in Peshawar said Shaheen was also wanted for masterminding other attacks on Pakistani troops that included suicide attacks.

In the Peshawar attack, a suicide bomber carrying five kilogrammes of explosives blew himself up after being stopped at a checkpoint by paramilitary troops, bomb disposal squad official Shafqat Malik told AFP.

Earlier this month Pakistan entered into talks with the Taliban aimed at ending their seven-year insurgency.


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