The Pakistani Taliban’s new leader, Mullah Fazlullah, planned the near-fatal attack on teen activist Malala Yousafzai last year. Fazlullah was appointed on Thursday after its former leader, Hakimullah Mehsud was killed in a reported US drone attack last Friday.
The Taliban’s leadership council debated for several days before unanimously appointing Fazlullah as the new chief, according to the head of the shura, Asmatullah Shaheen Bhitani. ABC News reports that militants celebrated by firing assault rifles and anti-aircraft guns into the air.
Mehsud’s death on November 1 sparked outrage among Pakistani officials who accused the United States of sabotaging the government’s attempt at making peace with the militants.
The government added that the suspected US drone strike came a day before it planned on selling a delegation of clerics to formally invite the Pakistani Taliban to participate in peace talks. Bhitani ruled out any peace talks with the government and accused Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of selling out the group on October 23 when he met with President Barack Obama.
The New York Times notes that the Pakistanis Taliban’s new leader was the leader of a Taliban faction in the northwestern Swat Valley. He was a surprise choice, considering the group’s previous two leaders belonged to the Mehsud tribe of South Waziristan, another militant hub.
Instead, Fazlullah is believed to be hiding in the mountains of Kunar and Nuristan Provinces in eastern Afghanistan. Still, he has considerable notoriety and has experience both battling the Pakistani government and negotiating with it. His group rose to prominence when it started infiltrating the valley in 2007. It spread fear among residents by beheading opponents, blowing up schools, forcing men to grow beards, and banning women from going to the market.
A military offensive pushed the group out in 2009, but they still carried out the attack on Malala last year. She was shot in the head while on her way home from school on October 2012. Both of the Pakistani Taliban’s previous leaders were killed by US drone strikes.
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