Pakistani Taliban Link to Times Square Bombing Attempt Would Have Troubling Implications
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The investigation of the failed Times Square bombing has centered on a vital question: Did Pakistan-based terror groups train and direct the accused bomber?
Until now, Pakistan's Islamic insurgency has been viewed as essentially a home-grown movement, aimed at overthrowing the secular government and replacing it with an Islamic regime.
But clues pointing at involvement of the Pakistani Taliban, a close ally of al-Qaida, in the plot have new and troubling implications.
If the Pakistani Taliban played a role, the terror threat against the United States may be widening to include an organization with thousands of hardened fighters who have not previously struck in the West. Pakistan would likely come under even more American pressure to move aggressively against the fierce array of militant groups operating on its soil.
"It would be a big deal," said Charles S. Faddis, a former top counterterror official for the CIA. "It would be a new thing. The Pakistani Taliban is a sizable organization and with the Pakistani diaspora out there, they could tap into that. It's the whole idea of the threat evolving beyond al-Qaida."
The accused bomber, Faisal Shahzad, has admitted to training in the Waziristan region, a militant refuge where al-Qaida and the Pakistani Taliban are locked in a struggle with Pakistani ground forces and U.S. missile-firing drones. Shahzad, 30, told investigators that he had met with members of the Pakistani Taliban, according to a U.S. law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation remains open. Shahzad also indicated that he wanted to avenge recent slayings of militant leaders by U.S. missile strikes, the official said.
"He made references to having had some sort of contact with the Pakistani Taliban," the law enforcement official said. "He made reference to his motivation being revenge for U.S. activity and involvement in Pakistan."
The Pakistani Taliban want to impose an Islamic regime in Pakistan and help the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaida drive NATO forces out of neighboring Afghanistan.
Despite past claims and threats, the Taliban has shown little capacity to attack in the West. That's why experts remain cautious about attributing blame for the attack until investigators confirm the confession. There are also reports linking Shahzad to Jaish-e-Mohamed, a Pakistani extremist group that is an ally of al-Qaida and the Taliban and operates in Waziristan.
The tangled web of extremism makes pinpointing a culprit especially difficult, according to a U.S. intelligence official involved in the case.
"In Waziristan, it's hard to say an attack is purely one group or another," said the intelligence official, who also requested anonymity because the investigation is still open. "It's such a mixed bag."
The case apparently reinforces two trends, one scary and the other more comforting.
The scary trend: Islamic extremist networks are unleashing a contingent of U.S.-based operatives in a campaign to strike the United States. Shahzad's name joins a fast-growing list of alleged American extremists accused of terror plots from New York to Chicago to Dallas during the past year.
The comforting trend: Al-Qaida and its allies have a tendency to make mistakes. Commentators who assumed the crudely-assembled car bomb could not be the work of a bona fide, foreign-trained terrorist need to take a closer look at recent history.
During the past decade, militants connected to al-Qaida have repeatedly botched bombings, disregarded their own security guidelines and blundered into the hands of spies. Al-Qaida has not carried out a successful attack in the West since the London transport bombings that killed 52 people in 2005.
In recent years, toughened global enforcement and the missile strikes in Pakistan have depleted the fugitive leadership, targeted training compounds and diminished the flow of aspiring holy warriors from abroad. (The number of American trainees, however, appears to have increased.).