Taliban chief is still alive, claims aide

The man suspected of masterminding the murder of Pakistan's former prime minister Benazir Bhutto may still be alive, despite claims he had been killed in a US missile attack last week.

The US government had said it was "increasingly confident" that Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistan Taliban, had been killed in South Waziristan last Wednesday after his death was confirmed by a close aide.

But yesterday, Hakimullah Mehsud, a fellow commander and close associate of the Taliban leader, dismissed the claims as "ridiculous".

However, some analysts believe the contradictory claims may be part of the battle for the Taliban leadership and an attempt to delay a decision in naming an heir. Despite the counter-claims, neither side has so far produced any hard evidence either way. Last year, a senior Pakistani intelligence official said Mehsud had died from kidney failure, only for him to emerge alive and well days later.

Mehsud is Pakistan's most wanted man and is believed to command more than 20,000 pro-Taliban militants.

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