The banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) announced it had appointed a new leader on Saturday after the militant group confirmed for the first time its former chief Mullah Fazlullah was killed in a US drone strike last week.
US forces targeted Fazlullah in a counterterrorism strike on June 14 in Afghanistan’s eastern Kunar province, close to the border with Pakistan.
US officials had not confirmed whether the strike was successful but Afghan President Ashraf Ghani later confirmed the killing to Caretaker Prime Minister Nasir-ul-Mulk and Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa in phone calls.
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In a statement sent to AFP on Saturday, TTP spokesman Mohammad Khurasani confirmed Fazlullah was killed in the US drone strike.
“It is a matter of pride that all leaders of Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan have been martyred by infidels,” Khurasani said, referring to Fazlullah’s two predecessors who were also killed in drone strikes.
The group’s shura council elected Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud to replace him, he added.
The Pakistan Army has called Fazlullah’s apparent death a “positive development”.
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He is believed to have ordered the failed 2012 assassination of Malala Yousafzai, who became a global symbol of the fight for girls’ rights to schooling, and who later won the Nobel Peace Prize.
TTP was also behind the massacre of more than 150 people, including more than 100 schoolchildren, at Peshawar’s Army Public School in December 2014.
The militant leader went into hiding in Afghanistan in 2009 and his death “gives relief to scores of Pakistani families who fell victims to TTP terror including the APS massacre”, an Inter-Services Public Relations statement had said.
Who is the new TTP chief?
In contrast to Fazlullah’s infamous brutality, the new TTP leader has a scholastic and literary background.
Mehsud, 40, studied at a number of religious seminaries in Pakistan to specialise in different fields of religious teaching. He served as a deputy to Baitullah Mehsud, who has been blamed for the 2007 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
The new leader Mehsud earlier this year authored a book in which he described the planning of Bhutto’s assassination, identifying the militants involved, including one who is still at large and believed to be hiding in South Waziristan.
Mehsud also fought against the US-backed Northern Alliance in Afghanistan and took part in TTP attacks against Pakistani security forces.
According to a Dawn report, he hails from Gorgoray area of Sararogha tehsil and belongs to Mechikhel, a sub-clan of the Mehsud tribe. He also remained a qazi (judge) of Sharia court established by Baitullah Mehsud.
“With the appointment of Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud the leadership of TTP has returned to Mehsud tribe in its home base South Waziristan as Fazlullah was from Swat,” Rahimullah Yusufzai, an acclaimed journalist and expert on the Taliban, told AFP.
Mehsud’s leadership could see the breakaway factions which emerged in the TTP after Fazlullah fled to Afghanistan in 2009 reunite, Yusufzai said.