Taliban deputy takes command

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The deputy head of the Pakistani Taliban announced yesterday that he was temporarily assuming leadership of the militant group because its chief, whom Washington and Islamabad have said was almost certainly killed by a missile strike, was unwell.

The announcement by Maulvi Faqir Mohammad is another sign that Taliban commanders are jockeying for power after the reported death of Baitullah Mehsud in a CIA missile strike in north-western Pakistan on 5 August.

A captured Taliban spokesman reportedly acknowledged that Mehsud was dead, but other commanders have insisted he is alive. Mohammad also claimed Mehsud was alive, but said he was too ill to lead Pakistan's Taliban.

"I was the deputy leader of the Tehrik-e-Taliban and now since Baitullah Mehsud is unable to perform as head of the organisation due to health reasons and unable to come on the foreground, I am announcing I am assuming the role of acting chief," Mohammad told the Associated Press by telephone from an undisclosed location.

He stressed his appointment was only temporary, and said the final decision on who would replace Mehsud would rest with a Taliban council.