Taliban Leader Killed -- for the Fifth Time

Four missiles fired from a drone came crashing down on a car in the Pakistani region of North Waziristan recently, reportedly killing Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban. Mehsud was a feared and brutal leader: Under his watch, the Pakistani Taliban orchestrated suicide bombings against Pakistani military targets, claimed responsibility for the attempted killing of Malala Yousafzai, and organizing a suicide bombing against a CIA outpost in Afghanistan that resulted in the deaths of seven American CIA officers and contractors.

Both Pakistani government officials and a high-ranking member of the Taliban confirmed Mehsud's death. Taliban officials have never before corroborated rumors of their leader's death, lending credence to the story. But you'll be forgiven if this feels like déjà vu: Mehsud has made a career of disproving reports of his demise.

Here are the times that the world's counter-terrorism officials thought they had gotten the notorious jihadist, only to be proven wrong.

August 2009: Pakistani officials told the New York Times that Mehsud had been killed by a rival Taliban commander in a power struggle over who would lead the Pakistani Taliban after the movement's leader, Baitullah Mehsud, was killed in a drone strike.

The Pakistani Taliban soon announced that Hakimullah Mehsud would head the movement - even as Pakistani intelligence officials continued to insist that he was dead. The Pakistani interior minister said Mehsud was gravely injured and the Taliban was looking to use his younger brother as a stand-in.

October 2009: Just a few months later, U.S. counterterrorism officials fueled new rumors of Mehsud's demise. "There's reason to believe that Hakimullah may have died recently," the official said, citing infighting within the Taliban as a cause.

Two days later, a healthy-looking Mehsud appeared in a video to promise new attacks against the United States and Pakistan. "I am alive and sitting in front of you. All the stories about my death were baseless. You can see me that I am alive," he said.

January 2010: Western military officials said that Mehsud was killed in a drone strike in mid-January, while Pakistani state television reported that the Taliban leader had been buried.

Pakistani intelligence officials told the Washington Post that Mehsud was "100 percent" dead. However, Pakistani and U.S. officials were a bit more circumspect to the New York Times, saying only that they were "increasingly convinced" Mehsud had succumbed to wounds from a drone attack. 

The Pakistani Taliban responded by saying that the allegation was a "total lie." By April 2010, officials reversed their earlier claims of Mehsud's death.

January 2012: Pakistani intelligence officials claimed to have intercepted Taliban radio communications that suggested Mehsud had been killed in a U.S. drone strike. Apparently, the militants were as confused as the media about their leader's health - they were debating whether he was still alive, with some militants saying he was dead.


Taiwanese Official Calls for Moment of Silence After Earthquake Kills Giant Rubber Duck

Florentijn Hofman's Giant Rubber Ducky has stirred both emotions and controversy during its tour of Asia this year. While the massive inflatable bath toy has enchanted tens of thousands of viewers, it's also made children cry in Hong Kong, faced censorship in China, and survived a supertyphoon in Taiwan.

Now, it seems the duck has met a rather untimely (and less than dignified) end, following a 6.3 magnitude earthquake that hit Taiwan Thursday. Taiwanese officials said that the quake caused the 59-foot sculpture to deflate while on display in Taoyuan township. When workers attempted to re-inflate the duck, its rear end exploded, "rendering it a flattened yellow disc floating on a pond."

Officials said the damage to the duck's rear would be difficult to repair, an announcement that upset  many Taoyuan's residents -- including county Councilor Chan Chiang-tsun, who called for 10-second silence in tribute to the fallen duck. But followers need not don their mourning clothes yet; As it turns out, the Kaohsiung city government has a spare giant inflatable duck, which will be up and smiling in no time.

Taiwan began petitioning to host the duck in 2009, when government officials saw it on display in Osaka and declared themselves smitten by the delightful creature. When the duck finally came to Kaohsiung in September, it drew half a million visitors in the first five days, and 3.9 million visitors over a month -- even in the midst of a typhoon.

The giant duck has visited 13 countries and many more cities, charming kids of all ages with its big, orange smile and apolitical stance (It's creator, Florentijn Hofman, maintains that the the duck "knows no frontiers...doesn't discriminate and doesn't have a political connotation.")

Its much anticipated visit to Hong Kong's Victoria Harbor this past summer fueled a cottage industry of rubber duck paraphenalia, from plush duckies to duck-shaped dim sum. It was so popular that cities in China began commissioning their own (very amusing) versions of the the Rubber Duck (including one that looked like a cartoon baby chicken, and a ferry made up to look like a roasted duck). Beijing finally got an authentic version of the duck in September, though residents complained about the steep viewing fee and Hong Kong denounced it for its "inferior" quality.

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