The Pakistani Taliban chose the man who planned the attack on teenage activist Malala Yousafzai as the group's new leader Thursday, less than a week after the U.S. killed its former chief in a drone strike, a militant commander and intelligence official said.
The Taliban's leadership council, or shura, made the decision at an undisclosed location in the North Waziristan tribal area after days of deliberation, said the commander, Hazratullah Torashipa, and the intelligence official.
Militants fired AK-47 assault rifles and anti-aircraft guns into the air to celebrate after the decision, Torashipa told The Associated Press by telephone from North Waziristan.
The former head of the Pakistani Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud, was killed by a U.S. drone strike on Friday just as he was entering his compound in a village in North Waziristan. Even though Mehsud was responsible for the deaths of thousands of Pakistani civilians and security forces, his death outraged Pakistani officials, who accused the U.S. of sabotaging the government's attempt to strike a peace deal with the militants.
New leader rose to prominence through radio
The new leader, Fazlullah, has served as the Pakistani Taliban's leader in the northwest Swat Valley but is believed to be hiding in neighbouring Afghanistan. He rose to prominence through radio broadcasts demanding the imposition of a harsh brand of Islam, earning him the nickname "Mullah Radio."
Fazlullah's group began to infiltrate the valley in 2007 and spread fear among residents by forcing men to grow beards, preventing women from going to the market and blowing up schools. A military offensive in 2009 pushed the group out of the valley.
Fazlullah and his group carried out the attack on teenage activist Malala Yousufzai, who was shot in October 2012 on the way home. She was attacked after speaking out against the Taliban over its interpretation of Islam, which limits girls' access to education.
Fazlullah is the first leader of the Pakistani Taliban not to come from the Mehsud tribe based in the South Waziristan tribal area. The group's first leader, Baitullah Mehsud, also was killed by a U.S. drone strike in 2009.
The shura chose Fazlullah as the new leader unanimously, Torashipa said.
Some Mehsud commanders were unhappy with the decision but eventually agreed under pressure from some of the group's senior militants, said the intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to journalists.