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US drone attack kills Mehsud wife

Peshawar, Aug. 5 (Reuters): The wife of Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud was among three persons killed today in a missile strike by a suspected US drone in the South Waziristan tribal region, relatives said.

According to a relative of the dead wife, Mehsud was not present when the missiles struck a house belonging to his father-in-law in Makeen, an almost inaccessible village in the heart of Mehsud’s stronghold on the Afghan border.

“Baitullah is safe and alive,” Iqbal Mehsud, a cousin of the dead woman, told Reuters by telephone. The US has placed a $5 million reward on the head of Mehsud, an al Qaida ally, widely regarded in Pakistan as public enemy number one.

Shortly before 1900GMT yesterday, two missiles hit the sprawling, high-walled compound of Ikramuddin Mehsud, a cleric whose daughter married Baitullah Mehsud last November. At least two militants were killed in the attack, according to a security official in Waziristan.

Relatives confirmed Mehsud’s wife was also killed, and said four children from the extended family living in the house were among the wounded.

Ikramuddin’s daughter was Mehsud’s second wife. The militant leader has no children by his first wife. Under Islamic custom, a man can have four wives.

The use of airpower is a contentious issue in the conflict raging in the ethnic Pashtun tribal lands straddling Pakistan and Afghanistan, as the guerrillas melt into the population and civilian deaths can harden support for the Taliban.

In the southern Afghan province of Kandahar, an air strike by western forces late yesterday killed three boys and a man from one family, villagers said. US forces denied the allegation.

US missile attacks on Mehsud territory in South Waziristan became more frequent after the Pakistan government ordered a military offensive against him in June. Pakistan forces have also bombarded Mehsud’s stronghold with air raids and artillery.

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