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Security forces captured the Pakistani Taliban's top spokesman in an operation near the Afghan border, a government official said Tuesday, dealing another blow to the militants following the reported killing of their leader earlier this month.
The seizure of Maulvi Umar follows government claims of disarray in the leadership of the Taliban over who should replace their chief, Baitullah Mehsud, who is believed to have been killed in a CIA missile strike on Aug. 5.
Umar was captured along with his two associates in a village in the Mohmand tribal region Monday night while he was traveling in a car to South Waziristan, a Taliban stronghold, said Javed Khan, a local government administrator.
"Maulvi Umar is in our custody, and he is being questioned," Khan told The Associated Press without giving any further details.
Earlier, three intelligence officials said local tribal elders assisted troops in locating Umar in the village of Khawazeo. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media, said Umar's arrest would likely be publicly announced later Tuesday.
As the official spokesman for Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, the umbrella organization formed in 2007 for various regional and tribal militant movements, Umar frequently called journalists to claim responsibility for terrorist attacks in Pakistan. He was known to be close to Mehsud.
Last week he called The Associated Press to insist Mehsud was still alive and deny reports of a power struggle within the Pakistani Taliban's disparate factions over who would succeed him.
Umar's capture was the second high-profile arrest of a senior Taliban figure in 24 hours.
On Monday night, police said they had arrested a militant commander and close Mehsud aide who was being treated in a private hospital in Islamabad, the capital.
Militant commander Qari Saifullah, who is reportedly linked to al-Qaida, told police he had been wounded in an American missile strike in South Waziristan, said two police officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information. It was unclear if it was the same strike believed to have killed Mehsud.
Pakistan's Western allies are desperate to see a crackdown on militants threatening the stability of the nuclear-armed country as well as the success of the US and NATO-led mission in neighboring Afghanistan, where violence is surging ahead of elections later this week.
Visiting US envoy Richard Holbrooke on Sunday praised recent gains against the militants, including the reported death of Mehsud and the retaking of the Swat Valley, 100 miles (160 kilometers) from Islamabad, from the Taliban in July.