ISLAMABAD (AFP) -A former Guantanamo Bay prisoner wanted for the 2004 kidnapping of two Chinese engineers in Pakistan blew himself up with a grenade during a clash with security forces on Tuesday, officials said.
One-legged Taliban militant Abdullah Mehsud killed himself to avoid capture after troops raided his hideout, interior ministry spokesman Brigadier Javed Cheema told AFP.
The Islamic rebel’s death comes amid intensifying US pressure on President Pervez Musharraf to take military action against Al-Qaeda and Taliban safe havens in tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan.
“Abdullah Mehsud blew himself up with a grenade and died when security forces raided his hideout. Three of his accomplices were arrested,” Cheema said.
Mehsud, 32, became the leader of Pakistani Taliban insurgents based in South Waziristan in 2004, after Pakistani forces launched military operations in the troubled tribal region.
In October 2004, Islamic militants led by Mehsud pressed their demand for an end to the army moves by kidnapping two Chinese engineers working on a multi-million-dollar hydroelectric dam project in South Waziristan.
One of the hostages died in a botched rescue bid in a major embarrassment for Pakistan, which counts China as its closest ally and biggest military supplier.
Mehsud, who spent 25 months in the US-run “war on terror” prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba until his release in March 2004, escaped after the incident.
He had been hunted by Pakistani forces ever since. Officials said he had recently been involved in lauching cross-border attacks on NATO and US-led forces in Afghanistan.
“Intelligence reports pointed out his presence at a house and security forces mounted the raid. He sneaked into Zhob from Waziristan,” Cheema said.
Zhob, in southwestern Baluchistan province, borders South Waziristan.
The militant leader and his companions exchanged heavy gunfire with security forces for hours after the house was surrounded late Monday, police said.
“When our forces finally entered before dawn this morning a man blew himself up to avoid being captured. He was identified later as Mehsud,” Zhob police chief Atta Mohammad said.
“He obviously did not want to be captured alive,” a senior intelligence official said on condition of anonymity.
Mehsud’s brother Baitullah is a leading Taliban commander in Pakistan’s tribal regions who has been linked to a wave of suicide bombings.
“It is a major breakthrough. Abdullah Mehsud was involved in heinous attacks,” Religious Affairs Minister Ijaz-ul Haq told AFP.
Mehsud’s death comes amid a wave of violence that has killed around 250 people in Pakistan since the army stormed Islamabad’s pro-Taliban Red Mosque earlier this month.
In one of the attacks last week, a suicide bomber targeting a convoy of Chinese workers in another part of Baluchistan killed 30 people. No Chinese nationals were hurt.
Thirty-five militants and two soldiers were killed in fierce fighting in Pakistan’s rugged tribal belt on Sunday and Monday.
The dead militant’s brother has reportedly urged Islamists to avenge those killed in the mosque, while Al-Qaeda’s second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri has called for a holy war against President Musharraf.