Taliban commanders are engaged in a bloody succession contest for control of their late leader Baitullah Mehsud's £25 million fortune, Pakistani security sources have claimed.
Mehsud, who took the Taliban's jihad into the heart of Pakistan's major cities with suicide bomb attacks, is believed to have been killed last week in a US drone attack on his father-in-law's home in south Waziristan.
Pakistani government officials and some Taliban sources said Mehsud, his father-in-law, wife, brother and seven of his fighters had been killed in the attack in the remote village of Zagara. Tribal rivals said 40 of Mehsud's fighters had also died in the attack.
According to Haji Turkistan Betani, Wali Rahman and Hakimullah Mehsud, were killed at the meeting in the Sra Rogha district of South Waziristan, while the group's notorious head of its school of suicide bombers, Qari Hussein, was seriously injured.
Betani's account was challenged yesterday by a respected local journalist who told The Daily Telegraph that Wali Rahman had called him on Sunday evening to deny there had been a clash in the meeting. Alamgir, a Pushto-language journalist for a Peshawar-based radio station, said Rahman had denied Hakimullah Mehsud had been killed, but declined to comment on the fate of Baitullah Mehsud.
Hakimullah's failure to issue his own statement has fuelled a widespread belief that, despite Rahman's denial, he is dead, while Taliban sources say the two men had been bitter rivals before Baitullah Mehsud's death.
"It is purely the question of succession that has caused the fighting between the two commanders," said one senior tribal leader. "They are just like a gang. Religion doesn't allow kidnapping, and smuggling of narcotics or arms, but they are doing it all the same," he added.
Sources close to the local Taliban leadership said Wali Rahman will now be the favourite to take control of Baitullah Mehsud's vast fortune.
They said Mehsud had built a vast financial empire on drug and weapon smuggling, donations from al-Qaeda and wealthy Arabs. Haulage and transport bosses paid substantial "tolls" while wealthy businessmen from Waziristan living in other Pakistani cities were warned their relatives would be beheaded if they did not pay up.