Afghan Taliban appoints Akhundzada as successor to slain leader

The Afghan Taliban announced Wednesday they had appointed a new leader as they confirmed the weekend death of their former chief, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, in a US airstrike.

A hardline cleric from the southern province of Kandahar, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada would replace Mansoor as the head of the insurgent movement, a Taliban statement said.

Akhundzada had served as deputy to Mansoor since last summer and was the chief justice during the late 1990s Taliban regime in Afghanistan, sources said.

He was chosen by a leadership council at an undisclosed location in south-western Pakistan during the past four days, sources added.

Sirajuddin Haqqani, the chief of the Haqqani network, and Mullah Yakoub, son of Taliban founder Mullah Omar, were appointed as deputies.

An unmanned aircraft targeted Mansoor's vehicle in south-western Pakistan on Saturday, killing him and another man.

Mansoor rose to the top position in August, after it emerged that Omar had died in 2013.

Mansoor’s tenure was marred by a rebellion of some commanders and confusion about whether or not he intended to join peace talks with the Afghan government overseen by global and regional powers.

US President Barack Obama said Mansoor was targeted because he was an obstacle to peace.

But Pakistani Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Khan said the slain militant commander was willing to return to the table once he consolidated his control over the group.

Experts said the death of Mansoor would pause Afghan peace initiatives for at least another year, as the new leader might need some time to consolidate his power.

"And sending your fighters to the battlefield is the best way to do that," Pakistani security analyst Fida Khan said. 

Taliban militants pursued their attacks on official targets under their new leader Wednesday, with a suicide bombing that killed 11 civilians and left four wounded.

A suicide attacker detonated his explosive vest near a bus carrying provincial court staff near the Afghan capital, officials said.

The attacker was waiting for the bus in the Kabul suburb of Shahrak-e Dawodkhan, said Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying in a statement that it was in retaliation for the recent execution of six militants.

Four Taliban fighters and two from other Islamist groups were hanged in early May.

Last update: Wed, 25/05/2016 - 16:02

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