Hakimullah Mehsud met with reporters Sunday for the first time since winning control of Pakistan's Taliban, quashing speculation that he had been slain in a succession struggle following his predecessor's death in a US drone attack. Flanked by heavily armed fighters, the new leader sat on a blue blanket, in a freshly pressed tunic, amiable and relaxed as he cracked jokes and mixed in threats of vengeance for deadly US airstrikes. One day later, a suicide bomber attacked a UN office in Islamabad.
He described his group's relationship to al-Qaeda as one of "love and affection," and vowed to retaliate against the US and Pakistan for deadly attacks on his allies. He said his fighters will repel an anticipated Pakistani offensive into his stronghold. The sitdown doubled as a show of unity for the Pakistani Taliban; Hakimullah was surrounded by top Taliban commanders. "We all are sitting before you, which proves all the news about myself ... was totally baseless and false," he said. Reporters at the interview, including the AP, agreed not to publish Mehsud's comments until they left the area yesterday.