, PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Jun 23 – A tribal leader aligned against feared Pakistan Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud has been shot dead, police have said, ahead of a planned military operation into Mehsud’s wild northwest base.
Qari Zainuddin, a 26-year-old rising tribesman who was increasingly critical of Mehsud’s use of suicide bombings targeting civilians, was killed at his office in the northwestern town of Dera Ismail Khan.
"According to preliminary reports, the tribal warlord was asleep in his office after morning prayers when one of his accomplices opened fire on him," local police official Salah-ud-din Khan told AFP.
"Zainuddin was immediately shifted to hospital where he succumbed to his injuries," he said, adding that one of the leader’s men was also injured.
Khan said Zainuddin was pronounced dead by doctors when his body reached the hospital in Dera Ismail Khan, which is in the district of the same name bordering the semi-autonomous tribal region of South Waziristan.
Police and intelligence officials, who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity, identified the shooter as a man named Gulbudin Mehsud. No motive was given for the killing, although blame will likely fall on Baitullah Mehsud.
Another local police official Ghulam Rabbani also confirmed the incident, saying: "Qari Zainuddin has been assassinated."
Pakistan’s army is wrapping up an almost two-month-long operation against Taliban rebels in three northwest districts, and are steeling to launch a second front against Mehsud and his network along the rugged tribal belt.
South Waziristan on the Afghan border is Mehsud’s stronghold, and Washington — which has been a vocal supporter of Islamabad’s anti-Taliban push — alleges that Al-Qaeda fighters are in the region plotting attacks on Western targets.
Zainuddin spilt from Mehsud’s Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) faction about nine months ago, and local media reported last week that the rival leader said he would welcome military action against his former commander.
Analysts have said that the military would likely try to fan the rivalries among the Mehsud tribe to gain allies before any ground assault into the hostile mountainous tribal belt where the government holds little sway.
Washington has called Mehsud "a key Al-Qaeda facilitator in the tribal areas", and earlier this year slapped a five-million-dollars bounty on his head for any information leading to his capture.