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Top Pak Taliban chief shot dead

Bannu (Pakistan), Feb. 24 (AP): Gunmen killed a top leader of the Pakistani Taliban in a tribal region near Afghan border today, intelligence officials and militant commanders said.

Asmatullah Shaheen Bitani and three aides died in a shooting in Darga Mandi area of North Waziristan, the four officials and two militants said.

Bitani's cousin also confirmed his death, saying that his family was preparing for a funeral and burial.

The officials said it was not clear whether the killing was militant infighting, or if Pakistani security forces killed him, or if Bitani was shot by someone who wanted the government bounty of 10 million rupees ($95,000) on him.

No one has claimed responsibility. Neither the militant group has responded yet with any statement, which they usually make after such high profile killings. All officials spoke anonymously because they were not authorised to talk to the media on record.

Bitani, who sat on the Pakistani Taliban’s executive council, was appointed interim chief of the militant group after a suspected US drone strike killed his former chief Hakimullah Mehsud last year.

He has since been replaced by another leader, Mullah Fazlullah, who was chosen by the executive council.

The Pakistani Taliban are a loose network of militant groups.

 
 
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