Authorities in Pakistan say they have captured the chief spokesman for Taliban insurgents along with two companions in a tribal region bordering Afghanistan. The arrest comes nearly two weeks after a suspected U.S missile strike is believed to have killed the top commander of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud. The detained Taliban spokesman is said to have confirmed to his interrogators that Mehsud was killed in the attack.
Local officials and eyewitnesses say that a pro-government militia locally known as "lashkar" captured Taliban spokesman Maulvi Omar with two colleagues in the Mohmand tribal region and handed them over to Pakistani security forces.
The detained militants were immediately flown in an army helicopter to the northwestern city of Peshawar for interrogation, where Maulvi Omar is said to have told his interrogators that chief of his extremist network, Baitullah Mehsud, was killed in a U.S drone missile strike on his hideout in the South Waziristan region two weeks ago.
Top Pakistani and U.S officials have repeatedly stated in recent days that they believe Mehsud was killed along with his wife and several guards in the missile attack. The most wanted Pakistani militant was leading the outlawed Tehrike Taliban Pakistan, an alliance of more than a dozen militant groups with links to the al-Qaida network.
Since Mehsud's death, there have been reports of deadly struggle for succession among his commanders.
Speaking to VOA, a senior leader of the ruling party in the North-West Frontier Province, Hashmi Babar, has described the arrest of the Taliban spokesman as a major blow to the al-Qaida-linked militants in Pakistan.
"I think his (Maulvi Omar) arrest and his vulnerability to be arrested signifies that there is already disarray within the Tehrike Taliban Pakistan and we will be looking forward for many more arrests and even more important than the one we have had today (Tuesday)," Babar said. "We must take advantage of the situation try to eliminate and break up the Tehrike Taliban Pakistan."
The Tehrike Taliban Pakistan led by Mehsud has claimed scores of suicide bombings and terrorist attacks across Pakistan during the past two years. Being the group's chief spokesman, Maulvi Omar, would frequently make telephone calls to claim responsibility for the deadly, violence that mostly killed security forces battling Taliban extremists in the tribal areas on the Afghan border.
Omar was also leading Taliban fighters in the Bajaur tribal region which borders Afghanistan's eastern Kunar province. Insurgents have reportedly used the Pakistani territory for cross-border attacks on U.S led coalition and Afghan forces. But the Pakistani military says it has regained control of most of the Bajaur region and has destroyed militant hideouts during the past two years.
The killing of Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud and the arrest of his close aid Maulvi Omar are being described significant successes in Pakistan's war against terrorism.
The arrest of the Taliban spokesman was announced as U.S Special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrook, is in Pakistan where he has praised Islamabad's advances against Taliban militants.