Telegraph : Terror plot: Baitullah Mehsud profile

Friday, April 10, 2009

Terror plot: Baitullah Mehsud profile

By Dean Nelson, South Asia Editor | April 10, 2009

Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the Pakistan Taliban, is a "terrible man" according to President Obama's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke.

Which is why the US state department last month offered a $5 million dollar reward for information leading to his capture.

The reward was a rite of passage for Mehsud, reflecting his rise from a small tribal leader in North Waziristan, close to the Afghan border, to the leader of all Taliban forces in Pakistan, and now allegedly the greatest individual threat to Pakistan's survival.

He emerged as a leader in 2004 when he launched a series of attacks against the Pakistan Army and gangsters who had been terrorising local tribesmen.

He was formally appointed 'Emir' of Waziristan by Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar, to whom he has pledged allegiance, and in 2005 pulled off a spectacular coup by forcing the Pakistan government to sign a peace deal.

The government paid $500,000 as 'compensation' to Mehsud's commanders, knowing it would be used to repay debts to al Qaeda.

The deal quickly collapsed, but it allowed al Qaeda's leadership to rebuild its global headquarters in tribal areas under Mehsud's control, and gave him space to extend his reign of terror.

Although his 'justice' is brutal, many of his actions were also popular, including the murder of criminals who were hung from lamp-posts. Opponents were sent 1,000 rupee notes and a needle and thread for it to be stitched into their funeral shrouds, and within 24 hours many were dead.

He now has more than 20,000 fighters, and Osama bin Laden's son has trained as a commander under his wing. In December 2007, he was accused of assassinating Benazir Bhutto, which he has denied.

Since President Obama came to power, a number of his senior commanders have been killed in US drone attacks. He has threatened tto launch two suicide bomb attacks every week and strike inside the United States if they do not stop.