New Taliban chief returns to Pakistan’s tribal areas: Spokesman

MIRANSHAH, PAKISTAN (TIP): The new head of the Pakistani Taliban has returned to the country’s tribal areas, a spokesman for the militants said on December 2, after several years based in Afghanistan. Hardline cleric Maulana Fazlullah was elected as leader of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) last month after his predecessor was killed by a US drone. Fazlullah has been based mainly in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan since 2009, when a military operation ended his followers’ brutal two-year rule of Pakistan’s northwest Swat valley.

TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said Fazlullah was now “commanding the Taliban movement at an unknown location in the tribal areas”. The TTP and other militants have strongholds in the seven semiautonomous tribal areas along Pakistan’s rugged, porous border with Afghanistan. Shahid’s comments came after some Pakistani TV channels reported that Fazlullah had reached Waziristan. “It is not true that Maulana Fazlullah is in Waziristan, he is in the tribal areas but at unknown location,” Shahid said.

Then-TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud was killed by a US drone attack in North Waziristan on November 1, while South Waziristan was largely cleared of militant hideouts by a military offensive in 2009. Washington has pushed for a similar operation in North Waziristan, currently seen as the major hub of Taliban and al-Qaida militants plotting attacks on the West and in Afghanistan. Fazlullah, who has a $500,000 government bounty on his head, has mounted some brutal and humiliating attacks on Pakistan’s military, including the beheading of 17 soldiers after an attack in June 2012.

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