U.S. charges Pakistani Taliban leader with killing Americans

By Spencer S. Hsu and William Branigin
Wednesday, September 1, 2010; 3:14 PM

The U.S. government designated the Pakistani Taliban a terrorist group Wednesday and accused its leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, of involvement in a December suicide bombing that killed seven Americans at a forward CIA post in eastern Afghanistan.

A criminal complaint, filed Aug. 20 by the Justice Department in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia and unsealed Wednesday, charges Mehsud with conspiracy to murder U.S. citizens abroad and conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, namely explosives, against them.

Mehsud was thought to have been killed by a U.S. drone strike in January, but he resurfaced in May in videos in which he vowed to attack U.S. cities.

As the Justice Department announced the charges, the State Department on Wednesday officially designated the Pakistani Taliban as a "foreign terrorist organization" and labeled Mehsud and another Taliban leader, Wali ur-Rehman, as "specially designated global terrorists."

The two-count criminal complaint against Mehsud cites a prerecorded video released after a Dec. 30, 2009, bombing by a Jordanian double agent, Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, of a U.S. military base near Khost, Afghanistan. In the video, Mehsud and Balawi appear together and claim responsibility for the impending attack, which killed seven CIA officers and contractors and injured six other U.S. citizens.

"Today's charges underscore our continuing commitment to seek justice for Americans who are murdered or victimized by overseas terrorist attacks," said David Kris, Assistant Attorney General for National Security.

In designating Mehsud and Rehman as global terrorists, the State Department offered a reward of up to $5 million each for information leading to their location.

Mehsud, self-proclaimed emir of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), as the Pakistani Taliban is known, is based in Pakistan's northwestern tribal areas. He has sought to expel Pakistani government troops from the region and battle U.S. coalition forces in Afghanistan.

The group also claimed responsibility for the May 1 failed bombing of Times Square in New York.

U.S. authorities said the TTP has claimed responsibility for, or is alleged to have had a role in, numerous other attacks, including the December 2007 assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto and raids on NATO supply lines throughout Pakistan's northwestern tribal areas. The Justice Department said the group has often coordinated attacks with other terrorist groups, including the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Mehsud inherited the leadership of the TTP from his cousin, Baitullah Mehsud, the group's founder, who died in August 2009.

In the video cited in the criminal complaint, Mehsud explains that the motive for attacking the CIA base was revenge for the death of Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed in a U.S. drone attack in the rugged South Waziristan region of Pakistan along the Afghan border.

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