Militants: Pakistani Taliban choosing new leader

ISHTIAQ MAHSUD and RASOOL DAWAR
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FILE - In this file photo taken Sunday, Oct. 4, 2009, new Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud, left, is seen with his comrade Waliur Rehman, front center, during his meeting with media in Sararogha of Pakistani tribal area of South Waziristan along the Afghanistan border. Intelligence officials said Friday, Nov. 1, 2013 that the leader of the Pakistani Taliban Hakimullah Mehsud was one of three people killed in a U.S. drone strike. (AP Photo/Ishtiaq Mehsud, File)

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan (AP) — Militants from the Pakistani Taliban met Saturday to choose a new leader after their chief was killed in a U.S. drone strike the day before, intelligence officials and militant commanders said.

The Taliban's leadership committee gathered at an undisclosed location Saturday in the North Waziristan tribal area, the same region where a U.S. drone strike killed the group's leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, on Friday, said the commanders and officials.

Drones were still flying over North Waziristan Saturday. Witnesses in the towns of Mir Ali and Miran Shah reported that Mehsud's supporters were firing at them in anger.

Two candidates are Mullah Fazlullah, the Pakistani Taliban chief for the northwest Swat Valley, and Khan Sayed, the leader in the South Waziristan tribal area. The information came from three Pakistani intelligence officials and five Taliban commanders interviewed by phone.

Omar Khalid Khurasani, who heads the group's wing in the Mohmand tribal area, is also in the running, said two of the militant commanders. But he was not believed to be a strong candidate.

All the officials and the commanders spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to talk to media.

Mehsud was killed Friday in a village outside Miran Shah when multiple missiles slammed into a compound just after a vehicle carrying the militant commander arrived.

Four other suspected militants were killed including Mehsud's cousin, uncle and one of his guards. They identity of the fourth victim is not yet known.

Mehsud was on the U.S. most-wanted terrorist lists with a $5 million bounty. He's believed to have been behind a deadly suicide attack at a CIA base in Afghanistan, a failed car bombing in New York's Times Square and brazen assaults in Pakistan that killed thousands of civilians and members of security forces.

His death will likely complicate efforts by the Pakistani government to negotiate a peace deal with the militants. After the group's number two was killed in a drone strike in May, the Tehreek-e-Taliban as it is formally called, fiercely rejected any idea of peace talks and accused the government of cooperating with the U.S. in the drone strikes.

In recent weeks the TTP appeared to soften its position but had still made multiple demands for preconditions to any negotiating, including the end of drone strikes in the tribal areas.

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Dawar reported from Peshawar.