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Senior Taliban commander gunned down in NWA

25 February, 2014

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PESHAWAR: Asmatullah Shaheen Bhittani, a senior commander of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and supporter of peace talks with the government, was killed along with his three colleagues on Monday in Darga Mandi village near Miranshah, North Waziristan Agency (NWA).

He belonged to the Bhittani tribe inhabiting the Frontier Region, Jandola, on the boundary with the South Waziristan tribal region, but had to shift to Miranshah in 2009 following a military operation in the area.

Taliban sources said Asmatullah Shaheen was coming to Miranshah in a car along with three other militants when another vehicle coming from the border area with Afghanistan overtook them and armed men sitting in it opened fire from AK-47 (Kalashnikov) assault rifles at them.

Asmatullah Shaheen and three others died on the spot while the fourth one suffered serious bullet injuries and was taken to the Agency Headquarters Hospital in Miranshah. One of the slain men was identified as Sher Rahman Bhittani, who was stated to be a sub-commander.

"The gunmen came in a car with tinted glasses and escaped after killing Asmatullah Shaheen and his men. We are surprised and don't know as to who would have done it," a senior Taliban commander and member of the Shura of the proscribed TTP remarked.

Pleading anonymity, he said Asmatullah Shaheen was living in Darga Mandi, which is about 10 kilometres east to the Afghan border.Some militant circles argued that he could have been killed due to his personal dispute in view of his long career in militancy. However, there were others who believed that his open support to peace with the government earned him the enmity of the anti-talks lobby within their disorganised militant network.

"He and some other senior Taliban commanders, including Sheikh Khalid Haqqani, the deputy leader of TTP and Ameer of the Shura, were openly supporting the peace talks with the government but there were some who vehemently opposed the negotiations," the Taliban commander said.

Asmatullah Shaheen was a close friend of the TTP founder Baitullah Mehsud and successor Hakimullah Mehsud and was the head of the TTP's chapter for his native Frontier Region, Jandola, initially.

According to Taliban sources, the deceased once developed serious differences with the leading TTP commander Said Khan, also known as Sajna, and both lost men in an armed clash. The TTP leadership, however, later resolved the issue.

Asmatullah Shaheen came to North Waziristan along with Mehsud and Bhittani militants when the government launched a major military operation in South Waziristan on October 20, 2009. He became the acting head of the TTP for a while when Hakimullah Mehsud was killed in a US drone strike last year. He gained limelight in the media and gave interviews, but had to make way for Mulla Fazlullah when the latter was chosen as the TTP head.

End.

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