Pakistani Taliban appoints new leader after deadly drone strike

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The Pakistani Taliban announced it had appointed a new leader on Saturday after the militant group confirmed for the first time its former chief Maulana Fazlullah was killed in a US drone strike last week.

Fazlullah 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.

His group -- Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) -- was also behind the massacre of more than 150 people, including more than 100 schoolchidren, at a Peshawar school in December 2014.

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 Pakistan’s leader and army chief in phone calls.

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-e-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.

Pakistan has long been accused of supporting the Afghan Taliban and providing safe haven to its leaders -- charges Islamabad denies. Pakistan, in return, has accused Afghanistan of sheltering the Pakistani Taliban.

Pakistan’s has army called Fazlullah’s apparent death a “positive development”.

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 (school) massacre.

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