Kabul: The Afghan Taliban on Wednesday named Haibatullah Akhundzada, an inflentual religious scholar rather than a combatant, as its head after the killing of Akhtar Mansour in a US drone strike in Pakistan last week.
The militia group also appointed Sirajuddin Haqqani, a sworn enemy of the US, and Mohammad Yaqoob, the son of former long-time Taliban founding head Mullah Omar, as deputies to Akhundzada, the group said in a statement.
Haqqani, who has a $10 million US State Department bounty on his head, is the leader of the Haqqani terror network, long aligned with the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
It was for the first time that the Taliban publicly confirmed the death of their leader Mansour on Saturday when a US drone struck his vehicle in Balochistan province’s Ahmad Wal town.
According to Afghan analysts, the appointment of Akhundzada comes as a surprise as until Tuesday Haqqani was viewed as the most potential successor to Mansour.
Haqqani, believed to be in his mid-40s, is described as “the most radical figure in their leadership”, and labelled as a “specially designated global terrorist” by the US’s FBI.
Akhundzada, one of the most respected religious scholars in Taliban ranks, headed its courts during its five-year rule over Afghanistan. He issued many of its harshest fatwas, or Islamic edicts.
Former Afghan intelligence chief Rahmatullah Nabil said Akhundzada was a village cleric and has no military or political experience, Khamaa Press reported.
Nabil in a tweet said the newly-appointed Taliban supreme leader is 56-year-old. He was one of the Afghan Taliban’s deputy leaders.
Born in Kandahar province of Afghanistan, Akhundzada belongs to the Eshaqzai clan. He is said to maintain close links with the Quetta Shura, the council of Afghan Taliban leaders based in the Pakistani city of Quetta.
“All the members of the leadership council pledged allegiance to the newly appointed leader,” the Taliban statement said, adding the allegiance to the new leader was “a religious obligation” for the group members.
The statement, confirming Mansour’s death, called on “all Muslims” to enter a three-day period of mourning for the late leader.
Mansour, according to the US and Afghan governments, was an obstacle to a peace process that had ground to a halt when he refused to participate in talks earlier this year. Instead, he intensified the war in Afghanistan, now in its 15th year.
Mansour had inherited the leadership from Taliban militant group founder Mullah Omar, who died in Pakistan in 2013. Omar had held the position since the inception of the movement in 1994.
According to Tolo news, the Afghan government hoped that the new Taliban leader would join the peace process.
His appointment came as a suicide bomber on Wednesday struck a minibus carrying court employees in Kabul, killing at least 10 people.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, making good on its vow to target government workers in Kabul’s judiciary.