ISLAMABAD — The Pakistani Taliban has appointed a new chief, militants said Saturday, selecting a top commander known for his ruthless efficiency in staging attacks, including a major hotel bombing and a deadly assault against the Sri Lankan cricket team.
The appointment of 28-year-old Hakimullah Mehsud could herald an increase in attacks as the group tries to prove it is still intact and operational, analysts say. It comes after weeks of speculation and reported infighting among Taliban commanders to replace Baitullah Mehsud, the group's former chief who was reportedly killed in an Aug. 5 CIA missile strike in northwestern Pakistan.
Several top Taliban commanders have insisted he is alive, but have provided no proof. U.S. and Pakistani officials are almost certain he was killed.
The government said it was investigating the reports that Hakimullah Mehsud had been chosen as the new Taliban leader.
Two close aides to another commander, Maulvi Faqir Mohammad, said a 42-member Taliban council, or shura, appointed a new head because Baitullah Mehsud was ill.
"I do confirm that a shura held Friday … has elected Hakimullah Mehsud the new chief of the Taliban," said one of the aides, Bakht Zada, adding that it was a unanimous decision. "Now all these talks of differences should end. There have not been any differences ever."
As military chief of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or Pakistani Taliban Movement, Mehsud commanded three tribal regions and has a reputation as Baitullah's most ruthless deputy.
Authorities have said he has been behind threats to foreign embassies in Islamabad, and there is a $120,000 bounty on his head. His men have been blamed for attacking U.S. and NATO supply convoys traveling through northwestern Pakistan to Afghanistan, and he claimed responsibility for the June 9 bombing of the Pearl Continental hotel in Peshawar, and the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore earlier this year.