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Fissures in Pakistani Taliban leadership deepen: Report

June 25, 2009 20:55 IST

The fissures in the Taliban leadership has deepened as a top dissident commander vowed to target Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan chief Baitullah Mehsud, days after a noted tribal militant was gunned down for speaking out against the feared warlord. Turkistan Bhittani, a dissident Taliban militant commander, has spoken out against the leadership of Baitullah.

BhittaniĀ said the tribesmen disapproved of Baitullah's policies, and vowed that his militia would fight until the Tehreek-e-Taliban chief's network was eliminated, Dawn News reported on Thursday. Bhittani said they were even willing to cooperate with the Pakistani Army as well as American forces to combat the TTP chief, according to the report.

On Tuesday, dissident militant commander Qari Zainuddin, a rival of Baitullah, was shot dead by unidentified gunmen in the northwestern town of Dera Ismail Khan. Zainuddin openly spoke against Baitullah, in what some say was a power struggle within the ranks of the militants.

Zainuddin was increasingly critical of his clansman's use of suicide bombings targeting civilians. Like Baitullah, Zainuddin was a member of the Mehsud tribe and led his own group comprising some 3,000 fighters. Baitullah's aide Wali ur Rehman has claimed that TTP chief had ordered the slaying of his key tribal rival Zainuddin. Baitullah is accused of plotting a wave of suicide attacks on Pakistani mainland, including assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, the Hotel Marriott bombing and the attack on the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team.

Baitullah's forces have got the better off Pakistan army in the past and apprehending a major offensive, he has been closing ranks by forging fresh alliances with other powerful Taliban leaders and bumping off opponents, analysts said.

Intelligence sources estimate Baitullah's strength at upward of 12,000 fighters. These include Pakistanis, Afghans, Arabs, Uzbeks, Burmese, Chinese and even some Americans and Australians. Taliban commander Qari Hussain, a close aide of Baitullah, who was popularly known as 'Ustad-e-Fidayeen' (trainer of suicide bombers) was among those killed in US drone attacks in South Waziristan. It was a death of Hussain, widely believed to be Baitullah's successor, which had bought the Tehrik-e-Taliban chief to attend his funeral where he had a narrow escape as the procession was hit by hurricane of missiles fired by US drones, the Dawn newspaper reported.

Over 80 people, a majority of them militants, were killed in the attacks. Residents of Bekh Mary Langara in South Waziristan, the scene of Tuesday's attack.

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