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Pakistani Taliban leader killed in Afghanistan, sources say

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PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A top Pakistani militant who had a $3 million bounty on his head has been killed along with three others in Afghanistan, three senior leaders of his group told NBC News.

Abdul Wali, also known as Omar Khalid Khurasani, was killed in an explosion on Sunday while traveling by car in southeastern Paktika province, the sources said on condition of anonymity as the attack had not yet been publicly announced.

Khurasani was a senior leader of the Pakistani Taliban known as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP, which aims to overthrow Pakistan’s nuclear-armed government and replace it with a strict version of Islamic law. Although the Pakistani Taliban are a separate group, they are linked to the Taliban militants who took power in Afghanistan when the US withdrew a year ago.

Abdul Wali.Rewards for Justice / State Department

Khurasani’s death could jeopardize the peace talks he participated in between the TTP and the Pakistani government, which are facilitated by the Afghan Taliban.

Pakistani Taliban sources did not say who they believe was responsible for the attack on Khurasani and his three aides.

“We have received their bodies and have begun investigations to determine if they were killed in an IED blast, drone attack or if they were shot,” said a senior member of the group, referring to improvised explosive devices.

After those investigations are completed, “we will issue a detailed statement as to whether we should continue peace talks with Pakistan or not.”

The governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Reports of Khurasani’s death in Afghanistan come a week after the United States said it killed Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in an attack in Kabul, the Afghan capital.

Khurasani split from the TTP in 2014 and formed his own militant faction, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, which has been labeled a terrorist organization by the United Nations and the United States. Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, who later joined the TTP, is accused of killing hundreds of people in multiple attacks on Pakistani troops and religious minorities, especially Christians and Shia Muslims.

In March 2018, the State Department offered up to $3 million for information about Khurasani under the Rewards for Justice program. He was also wanted by the government of Pakistan, which has conducted massive military operations against the TTP that pushed many of the militants across the border into Afghanistan.

The group, founded in 2007, has seen a resurgence since the US’s withdrawal from Afghanistan last year, with Pakistan accusing Afghanistan’s newfound rulers of backing them.

Pakistani Taliban sources said the group’s senior leaders had long been banned from traveling together in the same vehicle, and it was not clear why Khurasani and his aides had done so.

She said Khurasani’s body was taken to Nangarhar province, where he was stationed, and was buried there on Monday.

“We were unable to attend the funeral due to the fear of drone strikes as the drones flew over parts of Nangarhar and Kunar provinces,” said a senior member of the group.

Mushtaq Yusufzai reported from Peshawar, Pakistan, and Jennifer Jett reported from Hong Kong.

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