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Taliban chief is dead: Pakistani officials

PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud has died, the country's top civilian security official told The Associated Press Wednesday, giving the government's first categorical confirmation of the death of the feared militant leader.

Reports of Mehsud's death emerged after a spate of U.S. missiles hit his stronghold in Pakistan's northwest tribal belt in mid-January. Mehsud was said to have died of wounds suffered in one of the strikes.

The Taliban have denied his death, but have backed off an initial promise to prove the 20-something still lives.

Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik and a senior intelligence official told AP that Mehsud was dead, but neither gave details as to when or how he died.

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