DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan — Gunmen killed a senior Pakistani Taliban commander Monday who helped train and deploy the group's suicide bombers, while suspected U.S. drone missile strikes killed 20 alleged militants elsewhere in the northwest, Pakistani intelligence officials said.
Shakirullah Shakir was riding on a motorcycle near Miran Shah, the main town in the North Waziristan tribal area, when gunmen riding in a car with tinted windows shot him, the officials said.
Shakir was a senior commander and spokesman for the Fidayeen-e-Islam wing of the Pakistani Taliban. He once claimed to a local newspaper that his group had trained more than 1,000 suicide bombers at camps in North Waziristan.
No group has claimed responsibility for his killing.
Both North Waziristan and South Waziristan are key sanctuaries for the Pakistani Taliban, which has declared war on the U.S.-allied Pakistani government.
Missiles believed to have been fired by a U.S. drone hit a pickup truck in the Dra Nishter area of South Waziristan on Monday, killing eight suspected militants, Pakistani intelligence officials said. Dra Nishter is a Pakistani Taliban stronghold near the border with North Waziristan and has been hit twice before by suspected U.S. drones in recent months.
Hours later, a suspected U.S. drone fired two missiles at a compound in Mantoi, located about 30 miles (45 kilometers) northwest of Wana, the main town in South Waziristan, killing 12 alleged militants, said Pakistani intelligence officials.
The Pakistani officials all spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
The Pakistani military launched a large ground offensive in South Waziristan in 2009, but Pakistani Taliban fighters are still active in the area.
The U.S. refuses to publicly acknowledge the covert CIA drone program in Pakistan, but officials have said privately that the strikes have killed many Taliban and al-Qaida commanders.
The Pakistani government is widely believed to support the program, even though officials regularly protest the strikes as violations of the country's sovereignty — a message that plays well with Pakistani citizens, who widely dislike the U.S.
But future Pakistani cooperation has become less certain after the unilateral U.S. commando raid that killed al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden last month in an army town not far from the Pakistani capital. The U.S. kept the raid secret from Pakistan, which humiliated the country and elicited calls for the government to end its cooperation with Washington.
Elsewhere in the northwest, a senior Pakistani Taliban commander said Monday that he is splitting from the group to protest attacks against civilians, a rare criticism of the militants by one of their own.
Fazal Saeed said he is forming his own militant group, Tehrik-e-Taliban Islami, and will focus on fighting NATO troops in Afghanistan. The Pakistani Taliban, or Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, is mainly focused on battling the Pakistani government.
Saeed, leader of the Pakistani Taliban in the Kurram tribal area near the Afghan border, accused the group of targeting civilians in suicide attacks and bombings in mosques.
"We have repeatedly protested over killing unarmed and innocent people in these attacks, but no heed was paid, so we are splitting from Tehrik-e-Taliban" Pakistan, Saeed told The Associated Press by phone from an undisclosed location.
Thousands of civilians have been killed in attacks in Pakistan. The Pakistani Taliban often deny responsibility for attacks that kill large numbers of civilians, but they are widely believed to carry them out.
It's unclear whether Saeed's decision to split from the group is related to plans by the Pakistani army to launch a military offensive soon in Kurram. The army has cut deals in the past to avoid targeting groups who fight in Afghanistan as long as they agree not to attack Pakistan.
Also Monday, a member of Pakistan's ruling coalition, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, announced it was pulling out of the government at both the national level and in southern Sindh province because of disputes over legislative assembly elections held in Pakistan-held Kashmir on Sunday.
Farooq Sattar, MQM's senior leader in parliament, also announced that the governor of Sindh, who is a member of the party, would resign in protest.
MQM's decision does not rob the ruling Pakistan People's Party of a majority in the national parliament. But the defection could spark increased violence in Karachi, the capital of Sindh, where gangs allegedly affiliated with the MQM and the PPP often wage battle against one another.
MQM pulled out of the national government last year following a decision to raise oil prices but eventually rejoined after officials agreed to retract the price hike.
Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan said the PPP will work with the MQM to resolve their differences. "I am hopeful that issues with the MQM will again be resolved amicably," Awan said.
Associated Press writers Rasool Dawar in Peshawar, Pakistan, Hussain Afzal in Parachinar, Pakistan, Ashraf Khan in Karachi, Pakistan, and Zarar Khan in Islamabad contributed to this report.
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