TANK/MIRAMSHAH, June 24 Baitullah Mehsud, the chief of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, had a narrow escape on Tuesday when he left only moments before an attack by US drones on the funeral of a militant commander in South Waziristan.
The strike, however, claimed a significant scalp in the shape of Qari Hussain, a lieutenant of Baitullah who was popularly known as Ustad-i-Fidayeen, or teacher of suicide bombers. Circles in TTP had widely tipped him as Baitullah`s successor.
According to residents of Bekh Mary Langara, the scene of the attack, 80 people, 30 militants among them, lost their lives.
Doctors at the government hospital in Miramshah, North Waziristan, said 27 injured people, including children, were brought for treatment.
Taliban denied reports that militant commander Maulvi Sangeen Zadran, who attended the funeral along with three other leaders, had been killed in the attack.
`Reports about Sangeen Zadran`s death are baseless and his video statement will be released within two days,` Taliban leader Noorullah told Dawn in Miramshah.
He, however, confirmed that some militant commanders had died, including Maulvi Bilal, Khushdel and Shabir Khan.
The attack took place when a large number of people had assembled for the burial of an Afghan militant commander, Khoze Wali, who had been killed in a similar missile strike.
Some officials believe that commander Sangeen had come from Afghanistan`s Paktia province to attend the funeral of one of his key colleagues and the drones might have picked up his movement.
However, some locals said several Taliban commanders, including Baitullah and Sangeen, attended the funeral, but left moments before the strike.
`About 5,000 people attended the funeral and the main commanders, including Baitullah, had left before the missiles were fired,` said an injured man at the Miramshah hospital.
Taliban commander Wali Rehman said the dead had been buried in a mass grave. He said the bodies were mutilated beyond recognition.
Meanwhile, two Khasadars were injured in an explosion near a checkpoint in Miramshah on Wednesday.