U.S. blames Pakistani Taliban for Times Square bomb plot

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said the Pakistani Taliban has now taken on "a new significance."
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said the Pakistani Taliban has now taken on "a new significance." (William B. Plowman/nbc Via Associated Press)
By Anne E. Kornblut and Karin Brulliard
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, May 10, 2010

Senior Obama administration officials on Sunday blamed the Pakistani Taliban for the attempted car bombing in Times Square, saying in the most definitive terms to date that the militant group was responsible for planning and financing the botched attack.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said investigators had "developed evidence that shows the Pakistani Taliban was behind the attack," a sharp escalation from the initial assessment that Faisal Shahzad had acted alone and without sophisticated training. Holder's remarks, coupled with similar statements by other senior U.S. officials over the weekend, highlighted the emerging role of an al-Qaeda-affiliated group that appears to have only recently moved to follow through on its ambition, expressed for years, of striking inside the United States.

The group, Holder said on ABC's "This Week," has taken on "a new significance in our anti-terror fight."

The Times Square plot would mark the first time the Pakistani Taliban has tried to strike on American soil, signaling that the group -- which is an umbrella organization of militants in the region -- may be moving beyond its earlier targets in Pakistan and, much more rarely, Afghanistan.

John O. Brennan, the top counterterrorism adviser at the White House, said the administration is "taking very seriously" the threat posed by the Tehrik-e-Taliban, or TTP, calling it a "very determined enemy." But Brennan suggested the many errors in the execution of the Times Square plot on May 1 also illustrate that the administration's existing counterterrorism strategy -- which hinges on striking targets abroad using Predator drone aircraft -- is working.

"Because of our success in degrading the capabilities of these terrorist groups overseas, preventing them from carrying out these attacks, they are now relegated to trying to do these unsophisticated attacks, showing that they have inept capabilities in training," Brennan said on CNN's "State of the Union."

Shahzad, 30, a naturalized U.S. citizen now in custody in New York, told investigators that, on a recent five-month trip to Pakistan, he trained in Waziristan, a base of operations for al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban in the mountainous border region near Afghanistan. Until Sunday, officials had been vague about the connection between Shahzad and the TTP, which they now say directed his return to the United States to attempt an attack. There are reports Shahzad claimed he was motivated by revenge for the U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan; Brennan said it appeared the suspect was driven by the "murderous rhetoric of al-Qaeda and the TTP that looks at the United States as an enemy."

Although unsuccessful, the operation represents a remarkable comeback for the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud, who had been rumored to have been killed in a U.S. drone strike in January.

The group had insisted he was alive, and last week two newly released videos of Mehsud proved them right. It was his and the Taliban's second resurrection in a year: Pakistani officials declared the Pakistani Taliban hobbled after the death of its former leader, Baitullah Mehsud, in a drone attack last summer. Only months ago, the Pakistani Taliban appeared leaderless and, U.S. and Pakistani officials said, on its knees, after a military operation that chased it from its base in South Waziristan to North Waziristan.

The group is a relatively new actor among the militant groups operating in Pakistan. It came together formally in 2007, cementing its foothold in Pakistan's remote tribal areas -- where the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda had by then found sanctuary -- by upending the local power structure through brutal killings of tribal leaders.

For a time, it was tolerated by the Pakistani public and security forces. But over the past two years, the group has terrorized Pakistan through spectacular bombing sprees and a takeover of the picturesque Swat Valley, about 60 miles from the capital of Islamabad. The Pakistani government began to push back in 2008, banning the TTP and freezing its bank accounts.

In the past year, after the TTP began to advance toward the capital of Islamabad, the Pakistani military made an aggressive play to demolish the group, pushing the Taliban out of Swat and launching a major offensive in South Waziristan in October. As U.S. drones pounded the area in recent months, the group's attacks slowed, and Pakistani officials and many security analysts declared it splintered and crippled.

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