Taliban Confirm Mansour's Death, Appoint New Supreme Leader

  • Mullah Muhammad Akhtar Mansour. NDN Video still image
    Mullah Muhammad Akhtar Mansour. NDN Video still image
  • The destroyed vehicle in which Taliban commander Mullah Mohammad Akhtar Mansour was believed to be traveling in Baluchistan province of Pakistan, near Afghanistan's border. (AP Photo/Abdul Salam Khan)
    The destroyed vehicle in which Taliban commander Mullah Mohammad Akhtar Mansour was believed to be traveling in Baluchistan province of Pakistan, near Afghanistan's border. (AP Photo/Abdul Salam Khan)

KABUL, Afghanistan -- The Taliban have confirmed the death of their supreme leader, Mullah Muhammad Akhtar Mansour, and announced the appointment of his successor.

In a statement issued Wednesday, the insurgent group named Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, one of Mansour's two deputies, as its new leader "after long discussions by the leadership council, jihadi leaders, political experts and tribal leaders."

Meanwhile in Kabul on Wednesday, a suicide bombing targeting a bus carrying Afghan court workers killed at least 10 people and wounded four others. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the bombing, the first major attack in the Afghan capital since Mansour's death.

Mansour was killed in a remote area of Pakistan's Baluchistan province on Saturday when a car in which he was traveling was targeted by a U.S. drone. Western intelligence agencies have long believed that Pakistani authorities have harbored Taliban leaders since the group's ouster from Afghanistan in 2001 and that many remain in the Pakistani border town of Quetta and the port city of Karachi.

President Obama has said that Mansour was involved in plots targeting U.S. and coalition forces and that he was an obstacle to the faltering peace process.

"The Taliban should seize the opportunity to pursue the only real path for ending this long conflict -- joining the Afghan government in a reconciliation process that leads to lasting peace and stability," Obama said earlier this week.

The Taliban have been fighting to overthrow the Kabul government since 2001. Mansour formally assumed leadership of the group last summer, after it was revealed Taliban founder and longtime leader Mullah Muhammad Omar had died in a Karachi hospital in 2013. Mansour had concealed this fact while leading the group covertly for two years.

In their statement, the Taliban praised Mansour's rejection of the peace talks, initiated by a four-country group comprising Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and the United States.

"During his leadership in a very difficult time and situation ... (Mansour) didn't accept anyone's imposed request about a fake process and the internal and foreign pressures didn't change his mind."

The Islamic militant group said Mansour's deputy, Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of the deadly Haqqani network, and Maulavi Mohammad Yaqub, Taliban founder Omar's son, had been appointed as Akhundzada's deputies.

Some analysts and observers had feared Haqqani would be appointed to lead the insurgent group. The son of a veteran mujahedeen commander, he leads the most disciplined and sophisticated branch of the Taliban, which is believed to be behind many of the deadliest attacks, including last month's suicide bombing in Kabul that left nearly 70 civilians dead and hundreds more wounded.

In 2011, then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen called the Haqqanis a "veritable arm of Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence agency."

Akhundzada, a former judge under the Taliban regime, became head of the Taliban shadow courts after the Taliban was ousted from power in 2001. He was responsible for issuing fatwas, or religious edicts, justifying military and terrorist operations.

The cleric comes from southern Afghanistan and lived much of his life in Kandahar, where he has influence over madrasas, or religious schools, according to Afghan media reports.

The Taliban on Wednesday announced three days of mourning for Mansour, including prayer ceremonies, starting Thursday.

Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Wednesday's suicide bombing was a reprisal for the government's execution of six convicted insurgents earlier this month. He vowed that the "process of (revenge) will be continued."

The bus that was targeted was transporting officials from the judiciary department of neighboring Maidan Wardak province when it was attacked during the morning rush hour, an Interior Ministry spokesman said.

The last major attack in Kabul claimed by the Taliban was on April 19, when a massive bomb killed 64 people and wounded hundreds, many of them civilians.

-- Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report.

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