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Pakistan Taliban leader reported dead in US strike

ISLAMABAD - Intercepted militant radio communications indicate the leader of the Pakistani Taliban may have been killed in a recent US drone strike, Pakistani intelligence officials said yesterday. A Taliban official denied that.

The report coincided with sectarian violence - a bomb blast in eastern Pakistan that killed 14 people in a Shi’ite religious procession.

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The assertion that the Pakistani Taliban chief was killed came from officials who said they intercepted a number of Taliban radio conversations. In about a half a dozen intercepts, the militants discussed whether their chief, Hakimullah Mehsud, was killed on Jan. 12 in the North Waziristan tribal area. Some militants confirmed Mehsud was dead, and one criticized others for talking about the issue over the radio.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters. Pakistani Taliban spokesman Asimullah Mehsud denied the group’s leader was killed and said he was not in the area of the drone strike.

In early 2010, Pakistani and American officials said they believed a missile strike had killed Hakimullah Mehsud along the border of North and South Waziristan. They were proved wrong when videos appeared showing him alive.

The Pakistani Taliban is linked to attacks against US targets. They trained the Pakistani-American who tried to detonate a car bomb in Times Square in New York City in 2010 and is tied to a suicide bombing that killed seven CIA agents at an Afghan base in 2009.

There was no claim of responsibility for yesterday’s bombing that killed 14 people during a Shi’ite observance in Punjab Province in the east - the latest sectarian attack in volatile Pakistan.

Hundreds of Pakistani Shi’ites gathered in the town of Khanpur in Punjab Province for a traditional procession to mark the end of 40 days of mourning following the anniversary of the death of Imam Hussein, a revered seventh-century figure.

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