KABUL, Afghanistan – The son of the founder of the powerful Haqqani network was killed in an airstrike in Pakistan, Afghanistan’s intelligence agency said Sunday, providing the first public confirmation of rumors that have been swirling for days about the key member of a militant group the U.S. considers one of the most dangerous in the region.
The Taliban rejected reports of Badruddin Haqqani’s death, however, saying that he was alive and well in Afghanistan.
Haqqani’s death would be a serious blow to the organization founded by his father, Jalaluddin Haqqani. The group, which has ties to both the Taliban and al-Qaida, has been blamed for a series of high-profile attacks and kidnappings in Afghanistan, particularly in and around the capital city of Kabul, and it poses perhaps the biggest threat to stability in the country.
Shafiqullah Tahiri, the spokesman for Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security intelligence agency, said Haqqani was killed last week in an airstrike in Pakistan. He did not provide any further details and would not say what information the agency’s operatives were basing their conclusion on.
U.S. officials have declined to comment on the reports.
Tahiri’s account is similar to one provided Saturday by a senior Taliban leader who said Haqqani was killed in a drone strike. It also hews closely to a version provided by Pakistani officials who said Saturday that they were 90 percent sure the militant commander was killed in a missile attack Tuesday in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal region.
The Taliban, who are closely allied with the Haqqani network, rejected all reports of Haqqani’s death.
Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said Haqqani is alive and in good health in Afghanistan.
“A number of media have reported that Badruddin Haqqani has been killed. We would like to inform all media that this rumor is not correct,” Mujahid said in the email to reporters late Saturday. “Badruddin Haqqani is in the country and is occupied with his operational responsibilities. He is alive and healthy. The rumor about him being killed is more propaganda of the enemy.”
In a telephone call with the Associated Press on Sunday, Mujahid again maintained that Haqqani was alive.
The territory where the American drone strikes generally occur are in Pakistan’s remote and dangerous tribal regions, making it difficult for reporters or others to verify a particular person’s death. And the U.S. does not comment publicly on its drone program, which is widely reviled by the Pakistani public and has been a source of tension with Islamabad.
The al-Qaida-allied Haqqani tribe runs a mafialike smuggling operation and occasionally turns to terrorism with the aim of controlling its territory in eastern Afghanistan. The Haqqanis use Pakistani towns to plan, train and arm themselves with guns and explosives, cross into Afghanistan to attack NATO and Afghan forces, then retreat back across the border.