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Pakistani Taliban choose hardline Mullah Fazlullah as new leader

The Pakistani Taliban have appointed hardline cleric Mullah Fazlullah as their new leader, at the same time rejecting peace talks. Fazlullah is suspected of being behind the attack on schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai.

The Pakistani Taliban's leadership council, or shura, met in a remote, undisclosed location in North Waziristan on Thursday to decide on the new leader.

The choice of Fazlullah followed the killing through a US drone strike of former Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud at his compound in North Waziristan last Friday.

The decision is seen as a shift to an even more hardline move for the militants. While Mehsud and his allies were cautiously open to the idea of ceasefire talks with the government, Fazlullah has said he is against the notion.

"There will be no more talks as Mullah Fazlullah is already against negotiations with the Pakistan government," Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid told the Reuters news agency after Fazlullah was confirmed as leader.

Pakistani politicians had expressed outrage at the US attack on Mehsud, which came shortly before peace negotiations were set to take place between the insurgents and Islamabad. The Taliban has accused Pakistani authorities of being complicit in the drone strikes.

"All governments play double games with us," said Shahid. "In the name of peace talks, they deceived us and killed our people. We are one hundred percent sure that Pakistan fully supports the United States in its drone strikes."

Fazlullah rose to prominence through radio broadcasts that demanded strict Islamic rule, earning him the nickname "Mullah Radio." It is believed that Fazlullah is currently hiding in neighboring Afghanistan, having served as the Taliban's leader in Pakistan's northwestern Swat Valley.

The group took over the valley in 2009, imposing a strict brand of Islamic rule. The Taliban carried out public beheadings and floggings and has closed girls' schools across the valley.

Fazlullah is believed to be behind the attack in which the Taliban shot and wounded Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai in October last year, on her way home from classes. Malala had outraged the Taliban with her blog and campaign in favor of girls' education. Having survived the shooting, Malala was airlifted for treatment in Britain, where she still lives.

Fazlullah is the first leader of the Pakistani Taliban not to come from the Mehsud tribe, based in South Waziristan.

rc/hc (AP, AFP, Reuters)