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Afghan Taliban confirms death of Mansour, appoints new leader

The Afghan Taliban confirmed on Wednesday that their leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour was killed in a US drone strike last week and that they have appointed a successor—a scholar known for extremist views who is unlikely to back a peace process with Kabul.

The announcement came as a suicide bomber struck a minibus carrying court employees in the Afghan capital, killing at least 11 people, an official said. The Taliban promptly claimed responsibility for the attack.

Sirajuddin Haqqani, head of a feared network blamed for many deadly bomb attacks in Kabul in recent years, and Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, son of Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar, will serve as deputies.

Mansour had officially led the Taliban since last September, when the death of the movement’s founder, the one-eyed Mullah Mohammad Omar became public.

In a statement sent to the media, the Taliban said their new leader is Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, one of Mansour’s two deputies. The insurgent group said he was chosen at a meeting of Taliban leaders, which is believed to have taken place in Pakistan, but offered no other details.

Mansour was killed in Pakistan on Saturday when his vehicle was struck by a US drone plane, an attack believed to be the first time a Taliban leader was killed in such a way inside Pakistani territory.

Pakistani authorities have been accused both by Kabul and the West of giving shelter and support to some Taliban leaders—an accusation that Islamabad denies. The insurgents have been fighting to overthrow the Kabul government since 2001, when their own Islamist regime was overthrown by the US invasion.

Senior Taliban figures have said Mansour’s death could strengthen and unify the movement, as he was in some ways a divisive figure. The identity of his successor was expected to be an indication of the direction the insurgency would take, either toward peace or continued war.

Akhundzada is a religious scholar who served as the Taliban’s chief justice before his appointment as a deputy to Mansour. He is known for issuing public statements justifying the existence of the extremist Taliban, their war against the Afghan government and the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan. His views are regarded as hawkish, and he could be expected to continue in the aggressive footsteps of Mansour, at least in the early days of his leadership.

Akhundzada, believed to be around 60 years of age and a member of the powerful Noorzai tribe, was a close aide to Omar and is from Kandahar, in the south of Afghanistan and the heartland of the Taliban.

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