Where's Hakimullah?

Hakimullah Mehsud, reputed leader of Taliban forces in Pakistan, evidently enjoys attention. After he allegedly succeeded fellow tribesman Baitullah Mehsud (no relation) as Pakistani Taliban leader last year─Baitullah was reportedly killed by a missile fired from a U.S.-operated drone─Hakimullah featured in several video messages, now available on YouTube. Hakimullah subsequently attracted worldwide attention when he costarred in a "martyrdom" video recorded by Humam Khalil Muhammed Abu Mulal al-Balawi, the Jordanian doctor and double agent who blew up himself, a Jordanian intelligence officer, and seven U.S. intelligence officials with a suicide bomb after being allowed through the gates of a secret CIA outpost in Khost, Afghanistan, last Dec. 30.

But for more than three weeks now, new messages from Hakimullah's have been missing from the airwaves and Internet amid reports that he might have met the same fate as his predecessor Baitullah─death by remote control. As we reported Jan. 15, U.S. officials said they couldn't confirm local reports that Hakimullah might have died in a round of missile attacks then; we got a similar readout in the wake of a new round of reports of Hakimullah's demise two weeks later. Nearly two weeks later still, U.S. officials say they're still not 100 percent sure that Hakimullah is dead. But they say the longer he doesn't reappear in the public eye, the more likely it is that he might have been killed.

Some American and allied officials are now daring Hakimullah to show himself, if he is still alive. Said a U.S. counterterrorism official who asked for anonymity when discussing sensitive information Tuesday: "The Taliban must either produce Hakimullah or an explanation of what happened to him. They have a message problem right now and, having denied that he was in any way harmed, they could wind up with a credibility problem, too. It's theirs to resolve. Frankly, a bit of confusion in the Taliban ranks is a good thing."

A report from the Reuters wire service Tuesday said that Pakistan was awash with a fresh round of rumors about Hakimullah's demise. The last known contact with him, according to Reuters, was on Jan. 16, when Taliban militants produced an audio message in which someone claiming to be Hakimullah denied he had been killed in a U.S. missile attack two days earlier. According to reports from the region, the rate of attacks by missiles fired by CIA-operated drones against suspected terrorist targets in Pakistan's border areas intensified following the suicide bombing of the secret CIA base at Khost, as U.S. authorities stepped up efforts to hunt down the men responsible.

Where's Hakimullah? | World