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Evidence Mounts That Taliban Chief In Pakistan Is Dead

In this image made from video taken on May 24, 2008, Pakistan's top Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, i

Dead or alive? Mehsud in May 2008. AP photo/APTN hide caption

itoggle caption AP photo/APTN
In this image made from video taken on May 24, 2008, Pakistan's top Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud,

Dead or alive? Mehsud in May 2008.

AP photo/APTN

It's looking more and more like Baitullah Mehsud, the man said to be the head of the Taliban's network in Pakistan, is dead.

As the Associated Press reports, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi "told reporters in Islamabad that intelligence showed Mehsud had been killed in Wednesday's missile strike on his father-in-law's house in Pakistan's lawless tribal area, but authorities would travel to the site to verify his death."

NPR's Mary Louise Kelly just said on Morning Edition, though, that officials will want to have DNA confirmation before officially declaring that Mehsud was killed.

If Mehsud is gone, NPR's Philip Reeves adds from Islamabad, that would be a "major coup" for American and Pakistani intelligence agencies. Mehsud has been blamed for the assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto and other terrorist acts in Pakistan:

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The BBC says it's been told by "local sources" that "Taliban leaders have gathered in South Waziristan to choose a successor" to Mehsud.

Be sure to hit your "refresh" button so that you see our latest updates.

Update at 11:35 a.m. ET. The AP adds that:

Pakistani and U.S. intelligence officials said the CIA was behind the strike Wednesday that killed Mehsud. All spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Update at 9:50 a.m. ET. Pakistan's The Dawn Media Group has posted this video report about Mehsud and how he developed into a Taliban leader in that country. (Note: The report flatly declares that Mehsud is dead — something that has yet to be confirmed):

Update at 9:25 a.m. ET. Mary Louise has filed a fresh report for NPR's newscast. Here's the text:

The missile strike came on Wednesday — on the home of Baitullah Mehsud's father-in-law, in a village in south Waziristan.

That's one of Pakistan's seven tribal agencies, along the border with Afghanistan.

Mehsud's death would mark a major coup for Pakistan, where he has carried out a host of terrorist attacks.

Mehsud has also expressed a desire to hit targets in the U.S. — although there's skepticism about his group's ability to strike so far from home.

U.S. officials say that without physical evidence, such as DNA tests, they can't be 100% certain Mehsud is dead.

Still, there are reports today that Taliban leaders are gathering in Pakistan's tribal areas to discuss which of Baitullah Mehsud's deputies might replace him.

Update at 9:05 a.m. ET. Here's the conversation Mary Louise had with Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep:

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