Pakistani insurgents' connection to Times Square bomb attempt still not found

By Joby Warrick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 12, 2010

U.S. officials investigating the failed car bombing in Times Square are still far from certain about the role Pakistani insurgent groups may have played in orchestrating the attempt, the Senate intelligence committee's top Republican said Tuesday.

Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.) said he has seen no hard evidence that a Pakistani group -- or groups -- planned or directed the May 1 attempt, allegedly carried out by Faisal Shahzad. He added that White House statements suggesting a central role by the Pakistani Taliban were based on "suspicions and tenuous connections."

"We need to find out, as quickly as possible, what his connections were and how he was trained," Bond said, referring to Shahzad, after a closed-door committee briefing by senior intelligence and law enforcement officials involved in the investigation. Referring to recent comments by Obama administration officials about a strong Taliban link, the senator said: "I am not convinced by the information I've seen so far that there was adequate, confirmable intelligence to corroborate the statements that were made on Sunday television shows."

On Sunday, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. told NBC's "Meet the Press" that the Pakistani Taliban was "intimately involved" in directing the attempt to blow up a sport-utility vehicle on a crowded Times Square street corner.

Shahzad, a native of Pakistan who spent several months in the country's lawless tribal region over the past year, has reportedly told FBI investigators that he underwent terrorist training there, although the veracity of some of his statements has been questioned.

The British newspaper the Guardian quoted Pakistani investigators Tuesday as saying they had found no evidence to support U.S. claims that Shahzad had acted on Taliban orders.

Senate officials declined to describe details of Tuesday's classified briefing. A U.S. counterterrorism official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said there had been an "independent stream of information" that corroborates Shahzad's account about contacts between the suspect and the Pakistani Taliban.

Intelligence committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who joined Bond in speaking to reporters after the briefing, said there is a "high likelihood" that Shahzad received some kind of terrorist training in Pakistan. But she said committee members had not been provided with specifics about how the Taliban might have aided the attempted bombing.

Feinstein described Shahzad and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who is accused of trying to bomb a plane on Christmas Day, as "prototypes" of a new kind of terrorist operative capable of penetrating Western defenses because they lack criminal backgrounds or known connections to terrorist groups.

"Shahzad was almost completely under the radar, which is in many ways more ominous," she said. Feinstein said the Times Square case illustrates the need for better screening of financial networks and airline passenger manifests, though she acknowledged the difficulty of finding "lone wolf" operators with clean records.

"There is not an easy, magic solution," she said.

Staff writer Greg Miller contributed to this report.

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