Khan Said is the new leader of the Taliban
(Telegraph.co.uk)-The Pakistani Taliban voted to promote their number two commander, Khan Said, also known as Sajna, to replace leader who was killed in a strike by a US drone, militant commanders and security sources said.
Said is believed to have masterminded an attack on a jail in northwest Pakistan that freed nearly 400 prisoners in 2012 and an attack on a Pakistani air force base in the same year.
Mehsud was killed by a US drone in northwest Pakistan, near the Afghan border, on Friday. A shura, or meeting of the top figures in the movement, picked Sajna, who is said to have no formal education but a formidable reputation as a fighter, as its next leader.
Mehsud, who had a $5 million US government bounty on him, was buried late Friday after being killed along with four associates when a drone targeted his car in a compound in North Waziristan tribal district.
His death came as a major blow to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) network, which was behind some of the most high-profile attacks in Pakistan in recent years, including the 2008 bombing of the Islamabad Marriott hotel and the attempt to kill schoolgirl activist Malala Yousafzai last year.
Tribesmen opened fire on Saturday at a US drone flying low over the area where Mehsud was killed, while a few kilometres away the usually busy market in North Waziristan’s main town Miranshah was virtually deserted.
“Local people are scared. The death of Hakimullah Mehsud has created uncertainty. Everyone is talking about Taliban revenge,” shopkeeper Tariq Khan said.
Mehsud’s death is the third major blow struck against the TTP by the US this year, after the killing of number two Waliur Rehman in a drone strike in May and the capture of another senior lieutenant in Afghanistan last month.
The TTP’s supreme shura, or decision-making council, met Saturday to decide who should now lead the faction, a loose coalition of militant groups that emerged in the wake of a deadly 2007 military raid on the radical Red Mosque in Islamabad.
“The members of the supreme shura are taking opinions from all the shura members and senior commanders,” a Taliban commander said.
“The decision may take more time because the shura members are constantly changing the meeting place.”
It is common practice among militants in the tribal areas to move around frequently to avoid the attentions of the US drones that hover in the sky almost continuously.
Among the candidates in the frame to replace Mehsud is Maulana Fazlullah, also known as Mullah Radio, a radical cleric who led Taliban’s hardline two-year rule in the Swat Valley which ended in a military operation in 2009.
Mehsud’s death represents a success for the CIA’s drone programme against suspected militants at a time when it is under intense scrutiny over civilian casualties.
Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister, had been expected to send a delegation to open contacts with the militants, after winning backing for dialogue from political parties last month.
No formal talks have begun and opposition parties accused the US of using the drone strike to stymie the process before it had even started.