A Taliban leader who had emerged as a potential rival to Pakistan's most wanted militant has been assassinated by a guard, alleged to have been planted by the feared Baitullah Mehsud.
Qari Zainuddin was shot several times by one of his own guards who had stormed into his office following morning prayers and then fled in a car. Mr Zainuddin was rushed to hospital and pronounced dead on arrival.
His colleagues said the gunman must have been planted by Mehsud several months ago, underlining the divisions among militants as they come under sustained military assault from the Pakistan army.
Baz Mohammad, an aide to the militant leader who was also wounded, told the Associated Press he was certain that Mehsud was behind the attack. "It was definitely Baitullah's man who infiltrated our ranks, and he has done his job," he said, vowing to take revenge for the killing.
In recent weeks Mr Zainuddin, who is estimated to have around 3,000 armed supporters, had emerged as a rival to Mehsud, the head of the Taliban in Pakistan, and had spoken out against him.
Following a suicide-bomb attack on a mosque blamed on Mehsud in which 33 people died, Mr Zainuddin said: "Whatever Baitullah Mehsud and his associates are doing in the name of Islam is not a jihad, and in fact it is rioting and terrorism. Islam stands for peace, not for terrorism."
The United States has offered a reward of $5m for information leading to Mehsud's location or arrest.
Precisely what lay at the heart of the differences between the two men was unclear as the two had supported attacks on Western troops in Afghanistan. Earlier this year, the two militant leaders distributed leaflets, each accusing the other of acting as a "proxy" for the government.
The Pakistani military has been pounding positions in South Waziristan, Mehsud's base, ahead of an expected operation against him.
In late 2007, Mehsud proclaimed himself leader of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), or the Movement of Taliban of Pakistan, grouping 13 factions across the north west. Pakistani Taliban leaders have sworn allegiance to Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.
Mehsud's ascendancy came after then President and army chief Pervez Musharraf provoked a wave of militant violence by ordering troops to crush an Islamist uprising in Islamabad's Red Mosque in July 2007. Mehsud has been blamed for organising many of the suicide-bomb attacks in Pakistan since.
Mr Musharraf's government and the US Central Intelligence Agency both made Mehsud the number one suspect in the gun and suicide-bomb attack that killed the former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007. Mehsud denied it and many Pakistanis, including members of Bhutto's party, harbour other conspiracy theories about who was behind the assassination.
Mehsud was born in 1974 in Bannu, a district in North West Frontier Province at the gateway to Waziristan. His ancestral village of Shaga is in south Waziristan, the poorest of the federally administered Pashtun tribal areas straddling the border with Afghanistan.
In a region known for the recalcitrance of its tribes, Mehsud belongs to the Bromikhel, one of the most backward sub-clans of the fiercely independent Mehsuds.
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