Pakistan arrests man with militant ties who says he aided Times Square bomb suspect

By Greg Miller
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 14, 2010

The Pakistani government has arrested a suspect with connections to a Pakistani militant group who said he acted as an accomplice to the man accused of trying to bomb Times Square, U.S. officials said.

The suspect, whose arrest has not been previously disclosed, provided an "independent stream" of evidence that the Pakistani Taliban were behind the attempt and has admitted helping Faisal Shahzad, the main suspect, travel into Pakistan's tribal belt for bomb training.

Officials familiar with the investigation cautioned about inconsistencies in the two suspects' accounts. Federal authorities expanded their search for evidence Thursday, carrying out raids in four northeastern states, and arresting three people suspected of funneling money to Shahzad.

Still, the U.S. determination that the Pakistani Taliban directed the attempted attack is based largely on accounts given by the two men, several U.S. officials said. Authorities have been examining phone records, e-mail and other communication to see whether they contain firmer evidence of links between Shahzad and the Pakistani Taliban.

"What they said has been corroborated by other evidence,'' said a senior law enforcement source, who would not specify that evidence, saying it is classified.

The suspect in Pakistani custody "is believed to have a connection to the TTP," said a U.S. intelligence official, using an acronym for the Pakistani Taliban. Clues have added to authorities' understanding of the plot, the official said, but "what is definitely true is that a lot of this comes from the statements of people directly involved."

Assessing the role of the Pakistani Taliban carries significant stakes. A clear link would move the militant group onto an expanding list of al-Qaeda affiliates that pose a direct threat to the United States. It would also put new pressure on the U.S. relationship with Pakistan at a time when President Obama is pushing the country to expand its military campaign against insurgent groups.

In Islamabad, Pakistani security officials said Thursday that they had made no progress in finding concrete or credible evidence linking Shahzad to any Islamic militant activity in Pakistan or suggesting that he had traveled to the northwest and received training from the Pakistani Taliban.

U.S. officials declined to identify the suspect in Pakistan, but said American investigators have had direct access to him, and described him as a facilitator for the Pakistani Taliban.

U.S. investigators have pieced together their understanding of the Times Square plot largely by comparing the man's accounts with those of Shahzad. The broad outlines of their stories have been consistent, officials said, describing Shahzad's arrival in Karachi last year and his travel north to Waziristan for training with elements of the Pakistani Taliban.

But a second U.S. official briefed on the progress of the case said there are some "conflicts, disconnects" in their accounts. The discrepancies center mainly on the details and chronology of Shahzad's travel and training. Officials said the conflicts have raised some questions about the reliability of the suspects' information, but have not cast significant doubt on the overall understanding of the plot.

U.S. officials said they also think Shahzad and the man may have exaggerated their accounts. Both said they met Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud while being brought into the organization's inner core. But U.S. analysts are skeptical that Mehsud, who narrowly survived a Predator strike earlier this year, would risk meeting face-to-face with an unproved American recruit.

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