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Few Pakistanis and even fewer Americans had heard of Baitullah Mehsud. There are no pictures of the face of the Pashtun-speaking tribal chief from the rugged border area with Afghan. In December, he was chosen to lead the Taliban Movement of Pakistan, a nascent Islamist insurgent coalition on Pakistan's northwestern frontier and opposes nuclear-armed Pakistan's secular regime. They accuse Mehsud of ordering the Dec. 27 killing of Bhutto, a charge that the CIA has backed up. Mehsud has denied any role.
In late 2007 he humiliated Pakistan's army by kidnaping 250 soldiers, holding them for weeks and freeing them in exchange for militants held in Pakistani jails. In his first television interview on al Jazeera, Mehsud said his armed militants sought to drive the Pakistani army out of the tribal areas. He acknowledged links to al Qaeda. By agreement, Al Jazeera didn't show his face. How Mehsud's militants finance themselves is unclear. Analysts say charities in the oil-rich Persian Gulf countries send money and other funds flow from Afghanistan, where the heroin trade is booming. Mehsud told al Jazeera that his group's leaders "don't know how some money has come to us or who has paid it."
Many Pakistanis don't consider Mehsud a menace. They're as likely to blame the spate of bombings and Bhutto's assassination on assailants with links to the intelligence services under Musharraf as on religious extremists.