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Pakistani Taliban Appoint New Leader After Mullah Fazlullah's Killing

Late Pakistani Taliban commander Maulana Fazlullah
Late Pakistani Taliban commander Maulana Fazlullah

The Pakistani Taliban has appointed a religious scholar as their new leader to replace Mullah Fazlullah, who was killed in a U.S. air strike in Afghanistan earlier this month.

Mohammad Khurasani, a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, said in a statement on June 23 that the group had chosen Noor Wali Mehsud as its new chief and Mufti Mazhim, also known as Mufti Hafizullah, as his deputy.

Khurasani also said for the first time that Mullah Fazlullah was killed in a U.S. air strike in Afghanistan's Kunar Province, near the border with Pakistan. U.S. and Afghan officials said the strike occurred on June 13.

Mehsud, 40, is a religious scholar who studied at several religious seminaries in Pakistan. He served as a deputy to former Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, blamed for the 2007 assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Mehsud is also believed to have fought for the Afghan Taliban in the 1990s against the Northern Alliance and took part in attacks against Pakistani security forces.

The new leader comes from the Mehsud tribe that dominates the tribal districts of North and South Waziristan in northwest Pakistan.

The two tribal districts are a stronghold of the Afghan Taliban-allied Haqqani network and the Pakistani Taliban, before the latter was pushed across the border into Afghanistan after a 2014 Pakistani Army offensive.

Mehsud is believed to have close links with the Haqqani network, which has carried out deadly attacks in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.

Under Mullah Fazlullah, the Pakistani Taliban massacred 150 people -- mainly children -- at an army school in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar in December 2014.

The group was also deemed responsible for the October 2012 shooting of Malala Yousafzai, who later won the Nobel Prize and became a global symbol of the fight for the education of girls.

The United States also accused the group of attempting to stage a car-bomb attack in Times Square in New York in 2010.

In March, the United States offered a $5 million reward for information on Mullah Fazlullah, saying his group has "demonstrated a close alliance with Al-Qaeda" and gave explosives training to Faisal Shahzad, the would-be Times Square bomber.

With reporting by AFP and AP