Nek killed in missile strike
* Authorities fear violent backlash
* Thousands attend funeral
By Iqbal Khattak
PESHAWAR: The government said on Friday that it had killed rebel tribal leader and former Taliban commander Nek Mohammad and seven others including two foreigners in a targeted strike in a raid near Wana in South Waziristan Agency late on Thursday night.
A guided missile fired from a US-provided night-capable helicopter hit Nek Muhammad and his colleagues, intelligence sources said.
The dead also included three local Taliban and two young sons of a tribesman hosting Nek.
Military spokesman Maj Gen Shaukat Sultan confirmed Nek’s death, who resisted the government efforts to proceed against militants in Waziristan and had fought pitched battles with the army since last year but was pardoned after reaching a deal with the military on April 24.
“Nek is the 61st miscreant to be killed” in South Waziristan, said Gen Sultan who hoped that Nek’s death would prove a telling blow to anyone continuing to facilitate Al Qaeda. The spokesman said that Nek was just another miscreant. “We are not on a manhunt. We will eliminate every miscreant who does not surrender or denounce terrorism or militancy,” the spokesman vowed.
Intelligence sources told Daily Times that a call from Nek’s satellite phone was intercepted around 9:00pm on Thursday and a night-vision helicopter was sent in for a “targeted killing”. They said that a laser-guided missile was used in the attack. Sources said that Nek was in the house of tribal leader Sher Zaman whose two sons aged 16 and 10 were also killed in the attack.
“Minutes after he ended his phone call, a [guided] missile hit the place at 9:45pm where Nek, two Uzbeks and three local Taliban were dining,” a neighbour of Mr Zaman in Karikot area near Wana told Daily Times while quoting the host’s family. Nek was taken to the hospital but was pronounced dead on arrival. “Allah O Akbar (God is great) were his last words,” said the tribesmen who had brought Nek to the hospital.
A doctor at the Agency Headquarters Hospital told Daily Times that the lower half of Nek’s body was badly injured in the attack. The doctor said the bodies of the other men kill in the attack were also badly mutilated.
Thousands of Zalikhel tribesmen attended Nek’s funeral in Kalosha region where he was buried. He left behind two wives and a teenaged son. He had married his second wife around a fortnight ago.
The army spokesman accused Nek of “abusing” the amnesty offer when he claimed responsibility for attacks on two security posts in Tiarzah on June 9. “Who revoked the amnesty offer? We did not. The amnesty offer still stands. The real question is who abused it,” Gen Sultan replied when asked if the government had revoked the offer before killing Nek as the former Taliban commander and his four accomplices were pardoned under a deal with the military. “He has been killed with four other terrorists,” Gen Sultan said but he could not confirm that two foreigners were also killed in the attack. Reaction to Nek’s death was mixed. “People wept and many at first refused to believe that Nek was dead,” a tribal elder who attended Nek’s funeral told Daily Times.
“He was a brave man,” a young tribesman said. However, many tribesmen hoped that Nek’s death would help restore peace to Waziristan if the government “takes steps to win the hearts and minds of all Wazir tribesmen”.
“Men like Nek are not born every day. His death is a serious setback for foreigners who used him as a frontman,” a tribal elder said.
His death raises fresh fears of a violent backlash by his followers, security analysts said.
In his last interview with a foreign radio channel, Nek vowed to teach the government a lesson and take the war beyond Waziristan.
Shaukat Piracha adds: Interior Minister Makhdoom Faisal Saleh Hayat informed the National Assembly on Friday about Nek’s murder and reaffirmed the government’s resolve to continue its operations until the last terrorist was eliminated. In his policy statement, the minister said that more than 55 foreign militants had been killed in the ongoing operation in Wana. “Last night, an operation was carried out and the death toll of killed terrorists might have risen from 65 to 70, including Nek Muhammad,” Mr Hayat said.