Tribesmen open fire on US drone after Taliban chief killed

Tribesmen open fire on US drone after Taliban chief killed
Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud (C) sits with other millitants in South Waziristan October 4, 2009 in this video grab taken from footage released October 5, 2009.

MIRANSHAH, Pakistan - Tribesmen opened fire on a US drone over Pakistan's troubled tribal belt Saturday where Pakistani Taliban commander Hakimullah Mehsud was killed by a drone strike a day earlier, residents and officials said.

Mehsud, who had a $5 million US government bounty on him, died along with four others on Friday when a US drone fired two missiles at a vehicle in a compound in the village of Dandey Darpakhel, five kilometres (three miles) north of Miranshah, the main town of North Waziristan.

His death came as a major blow to the militant network and cast doubt over proposed peace talks, with fears of reprisals.

Local residents told AFP that dozens of tribesmen and militants had opened fire on a US drone which was flying low in the same area where the Taliban chief was killed.

"Tribesmen and militants were firing with light and heavy guns for an hour," Tariq Khan, a shopkeeper in Miranshah told AFP.

A security official in Miranshah confirmed the firing.

The official and residents said Mehsud was buried late Friday along with the four others killed - his bodyguard, driver, uncle and a commander, according to a senior Taliban source.

The usually busy Miranshah bazaar opened on Saturday but shoppers stayed at home.

"Local people are scared. The death of Hakimullah Mehsud has created uncertainty. Everyone is talking about Taliban revenge," Khan said.

Nisar Khan Dawar, a grocery store owner in the same bazaar said he had not received a single customer on Saturday.

North Waziristan is one of seven semi-autonomous tribal regions along the Afghan border, which Washington considers to be a major hub of Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants plotting attacks on the West and in Afghanistan

Mehsud's death represents a success for the CIA's drone programme targeting suspected militants at a time when it is under intense scrutiny over civilian casualties.

It is the second significant blow to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in a month, following the capture of another senior commander by US forces in Afghanistan.

Security expert Rahimullah Yusufzai told AFP it was unclear whether the TTP has anyone in its ranks capable of filling the gap left by the charismatic Mehsud.

"His death will weaken the movement. Although they will soon appoint a new chief it is to be seen how effective the new person will be in controlling things," Yusufzai said.

After a bloody six-year TTP insurgency which has left thousands of soldiers, police and civilians dead, the government has been edging towards talks with the militants.

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