KABUL — The Taliban appointed Mullah Akhtar Mansour as the new leader of the Afghan insurgent group, a statement said on Friday, marking a historic power transition for the militant movement.
The announcement comes a day after the insurgents confirmed the death of their elusive leader Mullah Omar, who led the fractious group, which is waging a bloody war in Afghanistan, for some 20 years.
Mansour, a longtime trusted deputy of Omar, takes charge as the Taliban confronts growing internal divisions and is threatened by the rise of the Islamic State group, the Middle East jihadist outfit that is making steady inroads in Afghanistan.
"After (Omar's) death the leadership council and Islamic scholars of the country, after long consultations, appointed his close and trusted friend and his former deputy Mullah Akhtar Mansour as the leader," the Taliban said in a Pashto-language statement posted on their website.
The Taliban on Thursday said Omar died of "sickness", without specifying when, a day after the Afghan government said the one-eyed warrior-cleric had passed away in Pakistan two years ago.
The militant group said Omar never left Afghanistan, from where he led the movement, a claim at odds with Kabul's assertion that he died in a hospital in the Pakistani city of Karachi "under mysterious circumstances".
"Not for a single day in the last 14 years did he go to Pakistan or any other country and led the Islamic Emirate affairs from his headquarters," the statement said, declaring three days of prayer ceremonies in his memory.
The family of the man who led an insurgency that has killed tens of thousands of civilians also asked "Muslims to forgive him if anyone's rights were violated during his time in the Islamic Emirate".
A Taliban official said the process to choose Omar's successor had several stages: the group's ruling council would choose a candidate who must then be approved by a college of religious clerics.
The top contenders included Mansour and Omar's son Mullah Yakoub, who sources said was favoured by some commanders but at 26 was considered too young and inexperienced for such a key role.
The confirmation of Omar's death ends years of fevered speculation about the fate of the leader, who has not been seen in public since the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan that toppled the Taliban from power.
But it cast a pall on the country's fragile peace process aimed at ending the long war, with the Taliban distancing itself from the second round of talks slated for Friday. —AFP