This week Pakistan’s military will intensify military operations in South Waziristan. There are plenty of targets. But on Sunday the Islamabad government made clear that at the top of the list is Baitullah Mehsud (seen above).
Baitullah is accused of assasinating Benazir Bhutto and has claimed responsibility for a series of attacks across Pakistan. In April he threatened “the heart of American power… Not in Afghanistan, but in Washington, which will amaze the entire world.” The United States has offered a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture or killing.
In early 2008 a terrorist cell in Spain — operating under the direction of Baitullah Mehsud — was captured by Spanish police before they could complete an attack on the Barcelona subway system. Scotland Yard has reported Baitullah is behind plans to attack targets in Britain.
A Pashtun tribal leader and veteran of the successful Afghan insurgency against the Soviets, Baitullah is thought to command a force of roughly 20,000 fighters concentrated in his tribe’s South Waziristan heartland. He assumed particular prominence in the Mehsud tribe following the July 2007 death of Abdullah Mehsud. In late 2007 Baitullah was a co-founder of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) or Taliban Movement in Pakistan.
Claiming close relations with Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden, Baitullah — still under age 40 — is considered one of the most important rising figures in terrorist networks. He does face inter-tribal and factional competition, but Baitullah has demonstrated a ready ability to take on (and out) any rivals. Some also suspect the tribal warlord of being well-connected with senior leadership in the Pakistani intelligence services.
Baitullah Mehsud: Who is He? (DAWN, Pakistan)
Pakistan’s Most Wanted: Baitullah Mehsud (Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency)
Profile: Baitullah Mehsud (BBC News)
Waziristan operation to focus on Baitullah Mehsud (LongWarJournal)