By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 6, 2010; A01
As investigators continued questioning Times Square bombing suspect Faisal Shahzad on Wednesday, the Obama administration was preparing to deliver to Pakistan a detailed request for urgent and specific assistance on the case.
U.S. officials said that they had reached no firm conclusion about whether Shahzad had ties to any domestic militant group in Pakistan but that information gathered thus far continued to point to the Pakistani Taliban, which has asserted responsibility for the bombing attempt.
The question of which group, if any, was involved is an important one for the future of the uneasy counterterrorism alliance between the United States and Pakistan. The Pakistani military has been waging war against the Pakistani Taliban for more than a year, with U.S. assistance.
But Pakistan might be more reluctant to take action against other groups, particularly those focused on separating the disputed region of Kashmir from India. Some, particularly Lashkar-i-Taiba, thought responsible for terrorist attacks in India, have strong support within the Pakistani intelligence service. Pakistani officials aiding in the Times Square case said they have arrested some people linked to a third group, Jaish-i-Muhammad, which is focused on Kashmir but has also turned its efforts against U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
A U.S. counterterrorism official said it was possible that two or more groups had worked together in grooming Shahzad for a terrorist mission during an extended trip he made to Pakistan last year. "There is a serious Venn diagram issue going on here," the official said. U.S. intelligence suspects there is increasing overlap and coordination among domestic Pakistani groups and the Pakistan-based Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda.
In New York, Shahzad continued his extensive cooperation with members of the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force, law enforcement officials said. He waived his right to an initial court hearing.
Pressure on Pakistan to escalate its domestic counterterrorism operations, particularly toward Kashmir- and India-focused militants, could increase anti-U.S. sentiment there, while any perceived Pakistani hesitation would undermine congressional and public support here.
The U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Anne W. Patterson, held preliminary meetings in Islamabad on Wednesday with President Asif Ali Zardari and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi. "The Pakistanis understand that they will have responsibilities as this investigation moves forward," an administration official said. "We need to provide them with some information. Based on that information, there are clearly things that they're going to need to do."
The official said the administration's goal was to present a detailed request for cooperation to Pakistan by the end of this week.
A senior Pakistani official said that the United States "hasn't done any comprehensive briefing of what they want from us. That doesn't mean they haven't told us what they would like."
So far, the only specific U.S. request has been to interview Shahzad's parents; a Pakistani official said the parents had not been located.
In the Hayatabad township of the northwestern city of Peshawar on Wednesday, residents and workers said the couple and close relatives had vanished from their house Tuesday night, although it was unclear whether they had been taken away or had left of their own accord.
In nearby Mohib Banda, the family's home village a few miles north of Peshawar, residents identified Shahzad from a photograph published in a local Urdu-language newspaper. "Yes, he is Faisal, unfortunately, from this village," retired schoolteacher Shamshad Khan said with tears in his eyes.
Haji Nazairullah, 70, said that the family is apolitical and that the village was shocked by the charges, which he suggested had been trumped up in the United States. "How can I trust the Faisal statement in the custody of Americans?" asked Nazairullah, who said he was a friend of Shahzad's father, a retired senior officer of the Pakistani air force.
But Faiz Ahmad, 45, who introduced himself as the former mayor of Mohib Banda and as being from the same clan as Shahzad, said he had seen changes in the younger man. Shahzad, he said, had grown up in cities where his father was posted but had returned occasionally for weddings or funerals.
"I know him well, and he was a cleanshaven young man with no jihadi or militant tendency until three years ago," Ahmad said. "He grew a beard, and I felt a little change in his outlook. . . . Something happened to him. I don't understand, but I suspected that he was not the Faisal as before." He said he had last seen Shahzad a year and a half ago at a wedding.
A family source who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that "Faisal was lately not living happily with his wife . . . after the couple lost their jobs" and defaulted on their home mortgage in Connecticut. His wife, Huma Mian, a U.S. citizen from Colorado, had returned to Pakistan to live with her parents in Karachi, the source said. "Faisal was depressed and desperate of losing everything. This, to me, is one of the reasons that may have led him to this extreme step of terror."
A spokesman for Affinion Group, the Connecticut-based marketing company where Shahzad worked for three years until June, said he had not been fired but had left of his own accord.
Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters that his government had recorded 13 visits by Shahzad, now 30, to Pakistan, presumably since he first moved to the United States on a student visa 11 years ago. He eventually was granted permanent resident status and became a U.S. citizen last year.
A senior Pakistani official said a person arrested Tuesday in Karachi, Mohammed Rehan, had traveled with Shahzad to Peshawar in July. The official said that Rehan was the Jaish-i-Muhammad chief from Peshawar and that he had been arrested in a Karachi mosque with known links to the organization.
Some officials suggested that Rehan also had links to the Pakistani Taliban; others said he did not. They described him as an "acquaintance," rather than a friend, of Shahzad's.
Officials named two other people, out of seven or eight detained in Karachi, including Iftikhar Ahmed Mian and Tausif Ahmed. Mian was variously described as the father-in-law of Shahzad or of Ahmed.
The chief Pakistani military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, said in an interview that Pakistani agencies "are probing, but they haven't been able to conclude or establish any links" between Shahzad and militant groups. Abbas expressed doubt about the ability of the Pakistani Taliban to carry out attacks in the United States, noting that the group had falsely made such claims in the past.
"I'm very skeptical," he said. "They have limited capability, limited reach." Abbas said he had heard nothing about links to Jaish-i-Muhammad.
Staff writers Greg Miller and Jerry Markon in Washington, correspondent Karin Brulliard in Karachi, and special correspondent Haq Nawaz Khan in Peshawar and Mohib Banda contributed to this report.