The al-Qaida-linked leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan is believed to have been killed by a U.S. missile strike in Pakistan's northwest, intelligence officials said Friday. The Taliban denied the claim.

The al-Qaida-linked leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan is believed to have been killed by a U.S. missile strike in Pakistan’s northwest, intelligence officials said Friday. The Taliban denied the claim.

Tahir Yuldash’s death would be a significant blow to the militant groups that have wreaked havoc along the Afghan-Pakistan border and the latest victory for the covert American missile program.

Yuldash was wounded in an Aug. 27 missile strike in the South Waziristan tribal region and is believed to have died a few days later, said the four intelligence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Yuldash and others formed the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in the 1990s, with the initial goal of overthrowing authoritarian President Islam Karimov and establishing an Islamic state. Its ambitions expanded to creating an Islamic state encompassing all of former Soviet Central Asia and China’s Xinxiang province.

Hundreds of the group’s members are active in Pakistan and Afghanistan, with many hiding in Pakistan’s tribal regions in alliance with the Taliban and al-Qaida. The Uzbeks are considered some of the fiercest insurgents in the region.

The Pakistani officials said they had received the information about Yuldash’s death from militant sources. However, Qari Hussain, a top militant among the Taliban ranks, called The Associated Press on Friday to insist that Yuldash was not dead.

“These reports are all fake,” Hussain said from an undisclosed location. “He is alive.”

Independent confirmation of Yuldash’s death is nearly impossible to obtain. South Waziristan is a major al-Qaida and Taliban stronghold in Pakistan’s tribal belt, and access is severely restricted as well as dangerous.

In addition, there are increasing reports that the military plans to wage a major offensive in South Waziristan in the coming days. Reports in Dawn, a major Pakistani newspaper, and The New York Times described the plans in Friday editions.

Pakistani military officials could not immediately be reached to confirm the reports.

The U.S. has launched scores of missiles against militant targets in Pakistan’s tribal regions, and American officials say the program has killed several top militants. In August, a missile strike killed Baitullah Mehsud, Pakistan’s Taliban chief.

The Taliban at first denied Mehsud had been hit, then confirmed his death more than two weeks later, insisting he had not died immediately.

Associated Press writer Ishtiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan contributed to this report.