Senior Pakistani Taliban leader Asmatullah Shaheen Bitani reportedly shot dead

The Taliban commander is said to have been killed in an ambush by gunmen on Monday - but no one has claimed responsibility

Click to follow
The Independent Online

One of Pakistan’s top Taliban leaders has been shot dead, intelligence officials and militant commanders have said.

Asmatullah Shaheen Bitani was ambushed in his car in a tribal region near the Afghan border on Monday, according to reports.

Three aides are also said to have died in the shooting in the Dargah Mandi area of North Waziristan.

"Unidentified gunmen in another car shot and killed Shaheen as well as the driver and guards," a family member told Reuters.

It is unclear who shot the Taliban insurgent, who had a government bounty of 10 million rupees (£57,000) placed on his head.

No one has claimed responsibility and 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 militant group after a suspected US drone strike killed his former chief Hakimullah Mehsud last year.

He has since been replaced by another leader, Mullah Fazlullah.

The Pakistani Taliban are a loose network of militant groups, which are attempting to overthrow Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's democratically elected government and impose Islamic Sharia law on the country.

Attacks have been on the rise since Sharif came to power in May, promising a negotiated end to violence.

Peace talks between the Pakistani government and Taliban insurgents began on 6 February but broke down last week after insurgents said they executed 23 soldiers in revenge for the killing of their fighters by army forces.

Pakistani air force jets have since been targeting militant hideouts near the Afghan border.

Shaheen was considered one of the proponents of peace talks, according to sources close to the Taliban.

In the latest strikes, the air force hit militants' compounds and a bomb-making factory in the Tirah valley in Khyber tribal region, an army and an intelligence official said late Sunday. They claimed that at least 28 militants were killed. 

They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media on record. 

There was no way to independently confirm the report. The remote tribal area is off limits to journalists. 

Additional reporting by agencies