Hakimullah Mehsud, the boyish-looking Pakistani Taliban commander who was killed Friday in a U.S. drone strike, was one of the world’s most wanted men with a $5 million bounty on his head.
Charismatic and fond of the limelight, Mehsud led the al-Qaeda-linked Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to some of the most audacious attacks of its bloody six-year insurgency.
Washington charged Mehsud with terrorism after a suicide attack at a CIA base in Afghanistan in December 2009 killed seven agents, the deadliest attack on the agency since 1983.
The United States offered $5 million for information on Mehsud’s whereabouts and added the TTP to its blacklist of foreign terrorist groups.
Believed to be aged about 34 at his death, he was born Jamshed Mehsud in the small mountain village of Kotkai in South Waziristan.
His father was a grocer and the young Mehsud helped out in the shop in between his studies at madrassas, religious schools that are a fertile recruiting ground for the Islamist militants fighting U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Many believe it was after meeting Baitullah Mehsud, who went on to found the TTP, that Jamshed decided to embark on militancy as a way of life and abandon his education.
He rose quickly through the ranks, appointed Baitullah’s spokesman in 2004 and in 2008 made commander of Orakzai, Khyber and Kurram, three of seven districts in the semi-autonomous tribal belt on the Afghan border.
He made a name for himself by staging daring attacks on convoys supplying NATO troops in Afghanistan, once posing with a U.S. military Humvee vehicle reportedly snatched in a raid.
He switched his nom de guerre to Hakimullah, or “one who has knowledge.”
After a drone strike killed Baitullah Mehsud in August 2009, the energetic, radical Hakimullah took the helm of the TTP after winning a bitter leadership struggle.
He pushed the TTP closer to al-Qaeda and oversaw some of Pakistan’s bloodiest gun and suicide attacks yet.
He swore to avenge Baitullah and within weeks the network claimed a 20-hour siege on Pakistan’s army headquarters, a humiliating assault on the most powerful institution in the country.
After months of silence following his reported killing by a U.S. missile in January 2010, Hakimullah resurfaced to threaten revenge attacks on major U.S. cities in videos issued in May.
It was a typical public appearance by a man who enjoyed the spotlight.
An AFP reporter who met him twice said Mehsud had a fondness for firearms and theatrics, firing a pistol wildly into the air, laughing mid-interview and challenging journalists to a shooting competition.
Shortly before the 2010 drone strike, he appeared in a video with the Jordanian al-Qaeda double agent who claimed responsibility for the suicide attack on the CIA base in Khost.
Just weeks before his death, Hakimullah gave an interview to the BBC in the tribal areas in which he vowed to continue attacking U.S. targets.
Mehsud had two wives, but it is unclear whether he had any children.
In addition to hundreds of attacks in Pakistan, the United States has linked the TTP to a botched car bomb plot in New York’s Times Square in 2010.
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