ISLAMABAD – Pakistani intelligence officials confirmed Thursday that a U.S. drone strike last week near the Afghan border killed the son of the founder of the powerful Haqqani militant network, a major blow to one of the most feared groups fighting American troops in Afghanistan.
Badruddin Haqqani, who has been described as the organization's day-to-day operations commander, was killed Aug. 24 in one of three strikes that hit militant hideouts in the Shawal Valley in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal area, said two senior intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
A U.S. official confirmed that Badruddin Haqqani was killed in a CIA drone strike. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the drone program publicly.
The presence of the mostly Afghan Haqqani network in North Waziristan has been a major source of friction between Pakistan and the U.S. The Obama administration has repeatedly demanded that Pakistan prevent the group from using its territory to launch attacks in Afghanistan, but Islamabad has refused — a stance many analysts believe is driven by the country's strong historical ties to the Haqqani network's founder, Jalaluddin Haqqani.
The Pakistani intelligence officials didn't specify which strike on Aug. 24 killed Badruddin, but said he was leaving a hideout when the U.S. missiles hit. The confirmation of his death came from their sources within the Taliban, which is allied with the Haqqani network, and agents on the ground, they said. But neither the officials nor their sources have actually seen Badruddin's body.
Pakistani intelligence officials previously said they were 90 percent sure Badruddin was killed in a drone strike in a different part of North Waziristan on Aug. 21. It's unclear what caused the discrepancy.
Afghanistan's intelligence agency said several days ago that its operatives had confirmed Badruddin's death. A senior Taliban commander has also confirmed the militant's death.
A Taliban spokesman in Afghanistan, Zabiullah Mujahid, has however rejected reports of Badruddin's death, calling them "propaganda of the enemy."
The U.S. does not often comment publicly on the covert CIA drone program in Pakistan.
The areas where the American drone strikes generally occur are extremely remote and dangerous, making it difficult to verify a particular person's death.
Badruddin was considered a vital part of the Haqqani structure.
The U.S. State Department has designated Badruddin, along with his father and brothers — Nasiruddin and Sirajuddin — as terrorists. The State Department said in May 2011 that Badruddin sits on the Miram Shah Shura, a group that controls all Haqqani network activities and coordinates attacks in southeastern Afghanistan.
Badruddin is also believed to have been responsible for the 2008 kidnapping of New York Times reporter David Rohde, the department said.
After their father effectively retired in 2005, Badruddin and his brother Sirajuddin expanded the network into kidnapping and extortion, both highly profitable for the organization, according to a recent report by the West Point, N.Y.-based Combating Terrorism Center. Afghan intelligence authorities have released intercepts of Badruddin orchestrating an attack against the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul in 2011, the CTC said.
The U.S. has long viewed the Haqqani network as one of the biggest threats to U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan as well as the country's long term stability.
The Pakistani military has refused to target the Haqqani network, saying its troops are stretched too thin fighting militants at war with the state in other parts of the tribal region. But many analysts believe the military views the group as an important potential ally in Afghanistan after foreign forces withdraw.
Also on Thursday, Pakistan security officials arrested the founder of one of the country's most virulently anti-Shiite militant groups, Laskhar-e-Jangvi, for allegedly making a speech that spread sectarian hatred.
A police official in Lahore, Maroof Afzal, said police arrested Malik Ishaq as he returned from a religious pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. He was arrested because of a speech he made during Ramadan that authorities said incited sectarian hatred.
Laskhar-e-Jangvi allies itself with al-Qaida and the Taliban. The group is blamed for scores of attacks on Shiites, regarded as infidels, and on Pakistani and U.S. interests. Police arrested Ishaq in 1997, and he was accused in more than 200 criminal cases including the killing of 70 Shiites. But the prosecution could never prove the case, in part because of witness and judge intimidation, and he went free in 2011.
The arrest comes as the country is undergoing a surge of sectarian attacks, many by Sunni Muslims who view Shiites as infidels. Much of the violence has come in Pakistan's southwestern Baluchistan province.
Gunmen shot to death a Shiite Muslim judge along with his bodyguard and driver Thursday in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan, said senior police official Wazir Khan Nasir. The police suspect it was a sectarian killing, he said.
Also Thursday, fighting continued for a seventh day between security forces and Taliban militants who came from Afghanistan to attack an area in northwest Pakistan, officials said. The fighting in the Bajur tribal area killed eight militants, two anti-Taliban militiamen, a soldier and a female civilian, said a local political official, Nazimeen Khan.
A total of 73 militants, 14 militiamen, 10 soldiers and 11 civilians, including six women and four children, have been killed in the week of fighting in the Salarzai area of Bajur, said Khan.
Associated Press writers Munir Ahmed and Rebecca Santana in Islamabad, Kimberly Dozier in Washington, Babar Dogar in Lahore, Abdul Sattar in Quetta, Pakistan, and Anwarullah Khan in Khar, Pakistan, contributed to this report.