Pakistan Taliban faction announce split, new leader

AFP , Thursday 4 Sep 2014

A recently formed bloc of the Pakistani Taliban announced its split from the group's official leadership Thursday, pledging its loyalty to a brash young commander linked to a series of brazen attacks.

The move indicates a deepening shift away from Maulana Fazlullah, who was elected head of the umbrella Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) last November following the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud in a US drone strike.

Fazlullah, nicknamed "Mullah Radio", was the de facto ruler of Pakistan's idyllic Swat valley from 2007 to 2009, using his station to announce who his fighters would execute the next day.

The new bloc, named the TTP Jamat-ul-Ahrar (freedom fighters group) is headed by Omar Khalid Khorasani, whose fighters announced in February they had executed 23 Pakistani paramilitaries held since 2010.

Khorasani previously led a faction called Ahrar-ul-Hind which claimed several attacks during a ceasefire period between the government and Taliban earlier this year, including one in an Islamabad court complex that killed 12 people.

Analysts believe Khorasani has strong links to Al-Qaeda and its leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.

A statement issued by the bloc accused Fazlullah of betrayal and working for selfish gains.

"The murderers of the mujahedeen are sitting with Maulana Fazlullah, why has he not taken any action according to the Sharia against them?" the release, written in Urdu and signed by Ehsanullah Ehsan said.

Ehsan previously worked for Fazlullah.

"We announce the cancellation of Maulana Fazlullah's membership and the group of opportunists around him," the statement continued, adding that Ahrar-ul-Hind and Jamaat-ul-Ahrar were now merged.

The Pakistani military has been waging a major assault on TTP bases in North Waziristan tribal area since mid-June and says it has crippled the militants' command and control structure.

The army said Wednesday it had killed more than 900 militants and lost 82 soldiers in the operation.

The TTP, a loose coalition of different militant outfits, was riven by infighting in the months leading up to the military operation.

In May a faction of the Mehsud tribe cut ties with the TTP. The Mehsuds were widely seen as the most important group in the TTP and their loss was regarded as a major blow.

Fazlullah is believed to be hiding in eastern Afghanistan and public statements by him are rare.

The new Taliban faction was announced on the same day as Al-Qaeda launched a new branch to "wage jihad" across South Asia.

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