Pakistan Taliban Names Schoolgirl Attack Planner as Leader

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Los Angeles Times/MCT) -

The Pakistan Taliban on Thursday named Mullah Fazlullah, the terrorist commander who oversaw the assassination attempt against schoolgirl activist Malala Yousafzai, as its new chief.

Fazlullah replaces Hakimullah Mehsud, who was killed last week in a U.S. drone strike in North Waziristan bordering Afghanistan.

Fazlullah’s appointment was reported by Taliban caretaker leader Asmatullah Shaheen, speaking to the media by phone from an undisclosed location in northwest Pakistan or eastern Afghanistan. Shaheen ruled out talks with the government and said the Taliban would take revenge for the Mehsud’s killing.

“There will be no peace talks with the government at all,” he said. “Pakistan has become a colony of the U.S.”

Shaheen said Fazlullah’s appointment dispelled the myth that there were differences among Taliban groups and showed the organization was united and well-organized.

Fazlullah led a brutal parallel Taliban administration in Pakistan’s northwest Swat Valley from 2007 to 2009, enforcing Islamic law by burning schools, flogging people in public and beheading accused “infidels.” He publicized fatwas and orders for execution during his broadcasts.

As Pakistani troops advanced in early 2009, Fazlullah fled with hundreds of his fighters over the border. He is believed to operate from Afghanistan’s eastern Kunar and Nooristan provinces.

Fazlullah reportedly ordered his men to carry out last year’s attack on Malala, an advocate for education for girls and women. The schoolgirl, who was 14 at the time, was shot in the head but survived and was taken to Britain for treatment.

His group is also responsible for killing a major general in the Pakistan army in September.

Friday’s drone attack against Mehsud raised tensions between the U.S. and Pakistan, which said it was poised to open peace talks with the Taliban at the time. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar pointedly accused Washington of sabotaging dialogue, adding that the strike was “not just the killing of one person, it’s the death of all peace efforts.”

Analysts said Fazlullah was a compromise candidate after two main groups belonging to Mehsud’s tribe were unable to agree.