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PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A splinter group of the Afghan Taliban announced its own leader Monday, underscoring deep divisions in the insurgency following the death of its longtime emir.
The dissident faction's announcement is believed to be the first public and official split of the Afghan Taliban since the group formed in the 1990s. There was no immediate response to the announcement from the Afghan Taliban.
Divisions in the Taliban ranks emerged following the revelation in July that longtime leader Mullah Omar was dead. News of his passing had been hidden from the rank-and-file for two years.
Mullah Mohammad Rasool Akhund was one of several Taliban commanders challenging Mansoor's appointment as emir. On Monday, his faction formally announced it was splitting from the Taliban and named Akhund as its leader.
"We tried our level best to save the Taliban movement from disintegration but after Mansoor’s refusal to step down ... We finally parted ways with him and chose our own emir," a senior member of the rival faction told NBC News by telephone. "Akhund is our new emir. He will now lead the mujahideen to continue their fight against the U.S.-led foreign forces and the Afghan security troops."
Akhund is 50 years old and hails from the birthplace of the Afghan Taliban in Kandahar province, according to two senior members of the Taliban.
One member of his faction described him as an "old and trusted friend" of the late Mullah Omar.
"He spent 10 years with Mullah Omar… and remained close to him even after the fall of Taliban regime," the Taliban fighter said.
After the Taliban was ousted from power in Afghanistan, Akhund served as governor of Nimroz province and later shadow governor of Farah province.