Share story

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistani Taliban militants chose a religious scholar as their new chief in place of Mullah Fazlullah, the insurgent leader who ordered the assassination of Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai and was killed earlier this month in a U.S. drone strike.

Mohammad Khurasani, a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, said Saturday that the executive council of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan appointed Mufti Noor Wali Mahsud as its new chief and Mufti Mazhim, aka Mufti Hafzullah, as his deputy.

Khurasani conceded for the first time that Mullah Fazlullah was killed in the drone attack in Afghanistan’s Kunar province. He did not say when and where the TTP executive council met to choose the new leader.

A ruthless leader, Fazlullah ordered the beheading of dozens of opponents when his band of insurgents controlled Pakistan’s picturesque Swat Valley from 2007 until a massive military operation routed them out in 2009. Fazlullah rose to prominence through his radio broadcasts in Swat demanding the imposition of Islamic law, earning him the nickname “Mullah Radio.” His radio talks also aired the grievances of many in the northwest against the government, such as its slow-moving justice system. He also reached out to women, promising to address their complaints about not getting a fair share of their inheritance.

The TTP under Fazlullah’s command also took responsibility for the brutal attack on the Army Public School in Pakistan’s northwestern city of Peshawar in December 2014 in which more than 140 children and their teachers were killed.

In contrast to Fazlullah’s infamous brutality, the new leader of the Pakistani Taliban has a scholastic and literary background. Mahsud, 40, studied at a number of religious seminaries in Pakistan to specialize in different fields of religious teaching. He served as a deputy to Baitullah Mahsud, who has been blamed for the 2007 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. The new leader Mahsud earlier this year authored a book in which he described the planning of Bhutto’s assassination, identifying the militants involved including one who is still at large and believed to be hiding in south Waziristan. Mahsud also fought against the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance in Afghanistan and took part in TTP attacks against Pakistani security forces.