ISLAMABAD - The chief of the Pakistani Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud, was believed to have been killed Friday in a strike by two CIA drones in the northwest tribal area of North Waziristan, Pakistani security officials said.
If confirmed, Mehsud's death would represent a devastating blow to the Islamist extremist movement that has killed thousands of Pakistanis.
The drones fired Hellfire missiles at a car as it entered a 1,500-square-yard residential compound in the village of Danda Darparkhel, 3 miles north of Miranshah, North Waziristan's main town, located near Pakistan's border with Afghanistan's Khost Province, the security officials said.
The house was built earlier this year and was sometimes used as residence and office by Mehsud.
Security officials in the tribal area, who routinely talk to the news media on condition of anonymity, said the missiles struck at about 4.30 pm time as the chief of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, or Taliban Movement of Pakistan, alighted from his vehicle.
Government ministers in Islamabad said they had not received confirmation of Mehsud's death, while there were no immediate comments from the movement, which is known as the TTP.
Local journalists said two men killed in the attack had been identified as Abdullah Behar Mehsud and Tariq Mehsud, close associates of the TTP chief, but the other bodies were burnt beyond recognition. The area was sealed off by Taliban militants shortly after the attack.
Pakistan Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan condemned the attack as a "conspiracy to sabotage" planned peace talks with the TTP.
Three government emissaries were to have delivered a formal government invitation on Saturday to the TTP to open negotiations, he said.
If Mehsud's death is confirmed, he would be the third of three Pakistani insurgent chiefs to have been killed by CIA drones. The first ever drone strike on Pakistani territory took place in 2004 and killed the insurgency's founder, Nek Mohammed, while his successor, Baitullah Mehsud, died in an attack in 2009.