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Gunmen kill a leader of Pakistani Taliban

BANNU, Pakistan — Gunmen killed a top leader of the Pakistani Taliban in a tribal region near the Afghan border on Monday, intelligence officials and militant commanders said.

Asmatullah Shaheen Bitani and three aides died in a shooting in the Darga Mandi area of North Waziristan, the four officials and two militants said. Bitani’s cousin also confirmed his death, saying that his family was preparing for a funeral and burial.

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The officials said it was not clear whether the killing was a result of militant infighting, action by Pakistani security forces, or an attack by someone who wanted the government bounty of $95,000 on him. No one had claimed responsibility. The militant group had not responded with a statement, which they usually make after such high-profile killings. All officials spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to talk to the media on record.

Bitani, who sat on the Pakistani Taliban’s executive council, was appointed interim chief of the group after a suspected US drone strike killed his former chief Hakimullah Mehsud last year. He was replaced by another leader, Mullah Fazlullah, who was chosen by the executive council.

The Pakistani Taliban are a loose network of militant groups. Tens of thousands of Pakistanis have died in their war to overthrow the government and enforce their harsh brand of Islamic shariah law.

Also Monday, an attacker wearing an explosives vest blew himself up near a security checkpoint close to the residence of the Iranian consul general in Peshawar, said the provincial police chief. Two Pakistani guards were killed.

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