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Relief in Swat Valley over reported death of Taliban Maulana Fazlullah

The reported death of Pakistani Taliban leader Mullah Maulana Fazlullah brought relief to family members of his victims in Pakistan's Swat Valley, which he once ruled with an iron hand. But the Taliban deny he's dead.

By Owais TohidCorrespondent / May 27, 2010

The Pakistani Taliban leader Maulvi Fazlullah was reportedly killed along with his six other Taliban commanders in Nuristan province in Afghanistan Wednesday night, however Pakistani Taliban denied the report on May 27.

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Karachi, Pakistan

After hearing that an Afghan border official had announced Taliban leader Mullah Maulana Fazlullah’s death in Afghanistan, Hilal Ahmed went to the graveyard with tears of relief.

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The 33-year-old doctor and resident of Pakistan's Swat valley closed his clinic in the hilly town of Charbagh and went to offer prayers at the graves of his uncle and two relatives who were shot dead by Mullah Fazlullah’s militants. Their crime? The family had dissented against the Taliban's presence in Swat.

“It is God’s revenge. [Fazlullah] turned our valley into the valley of death with his atrocities,” says an emotional Ahmed.

The militant's death was claimed by the chief of Afghanistan's border security, following a clash between official forces and Fazlullah’s militia in Barg Matal district of Nuristan province, which borders the Bajaur tribal region of Pakistan.

Fazullah was a key Taliban leader who led thousands of fighters and administered a parallel state system in the lush valleys of Swat. He was dubbed the Radio Mullah for his fiery radio broadcasts . He set up a parallel court with militants as judges, modeled on the strict Afghan Taliban code, initially drawing local support that waned as he led a reign of terror. Under his two-year rule starting in 2007, girls’ education was banned, schools were bombed, veils imposed on women, and public executions and flogging were used. Tens of thousands of families fled the valley.

In the ensuing military operation, more than 3,000 people were killed including 1,000 security personnel. A year ago, he fled Pakistan’s military offensive in Swat and slipped into Afghanistan. Sources say he was in Nuristan province recently and he himself had telephoned a British broadcast station last year announcing his escape.

Engaged in Afghan fight

A day before his death, Afghan officials said that Fazlullah was leading around 300 Pakistani Taliban fighters against Afghanistan security forces in Nuristan. Sources say he was moving between Kunar and Nuristan provinces.

A Pakistani intelligence official, who asked not to be identified says, “We have to wait for authenticity of the claim. We have to see the body, footage, or picture of the corpse to reach to the conclusion that he is dead.”

If the claim of his death is true, it could demoralize Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan ("Pakistan Taliban" or TTP) for whom he was the public face, and its commanders in the tribal belt, especially those in North Waziristan as the threat of a massive Pakistan military operation also looms large.

It may also push Pakistan Taliban commanders such as Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Sirajuddin Haqqani into keeping a low profile and make them cautious about sending fighters to Afghanistan. They are accused of sending fighters to Afghanistan's southeastern provinces of Khost, Paktia, and Paktika bordering North Waziristan.

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