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Pakistan government confirms Taliban chief is dead

PESHAWAR, Pakistan - Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud has died, the country's top civilian security official told The Associated Press yesterday. It was the government's first categorical confirmation of the death of the feared militant, whose passing is likely to weaken, but not vanquish, the al-Qaida-linked insurgent network he led.

In a sign of the continued militant threat, a suicide bomber attacked a vehicle carrying tribal police near Pakistan's volatile border with Afghanistan, killing 17 people, including 10 policemen, said a local government official.

Reports of Mehsud's death emerged after a spate of U.S. missiles hit his stronghold in Pakistan's northwestern tribal belt in mid-January. Mehsud, 28, was said to have died of wounds suffered in one of the strikes in the Waziristan region - another big victory for the CIA-led missile campaign that killed Mehsud's predecessor just six months ago.

The Taliban have repeatedly denied his death.

In a response to an AP query, Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik, wrote, "Yes, he is dead." A senior intelligence official concurred separately.

Hakimullah Mehsud has been considered a particularly ruthless Taliban fighter with grand ambitions. He appeared in a video with a Jordanian suicide bomber who killed seven CIA employees in eastern Afghanistan. - AP

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