Pakistan militant spokesman phones to deny death

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 26, 2015 4:07 AM

By Jibran Ahmad

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan (Reuters) - A spokesman for Pakistani militant group called journalists on Thursday to assure them he was alive after Pakistani intelligence officials claimed he was among 30 fighters killed in air strikes in the northwestern Khyber region.

The intelligence officials said air force jets had targeted militants belonging to Lashkar-e-Islam, which announced an alliance with the Pakistani Taliban earlier this month, and they named the group's spokesman, Salahuddin Ayubi, as one of the fighters killed.

"I wanted ?to talk to you and other journalists and prove that by the grace of Allah Almighty I am alive," Ayubi told Reuters. "I would request our journalist brothers to check news about the killing of our commanders before reporting it to the media."

Members of Lashkar-e-Islam said on Wednesday they could neither confirm nor deny the intelligence officials' version of events and that they were checking.

The air force has been pounding positions in the Tirah Valley for days and the military says it has killed over 100 militants. At least seven soldiers have also been killed, it says.

Ayubi denied more than 100 militants had been killed and said Lashkar-e-Islam was "still in possession" of the valley.

There is no way to confirm casualties independently as the area is sealed to journalists.

The Pakistani and Afghan Taliban share a similar jihadist ideology but operate as separate entities. The Pakistani Taliban is focused on toppling the state and establishing strict Islamic rule.

(Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)