U.S. charges Pakistani Taliban leader in CIA attack

By Spencer S. Hsu and Greg Miller
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, September 2, 2010

The U.S. government designated the Pakistani Taliban a terrorist group Wednesday and charged its leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, with involvement in a December suicide bombing that killed seven Americans at a remote CIA operating base in Afghanistan.

The coordinated moves by the State and Justice departments marked an effort to expand the campaign against the militant group beyond CIA drone strikes and other lethal means being used to disrupt its operations.

While the Pakistani Taliban continues to attack government and civilian targets domestically, it has expanded its agenda to include operations against the United States. In addition to staging the attack on the CIA operating base, the group asserted responsibility for equipping and training the Pakistani-born suspect in the attempted bombing in Times Square on May 1.

The Pakistani Taliban "is very much part of the most dangerous terrorist threat the United States faces," Daniel Benjamin, ambassador-at-large for counterterrorism at the State Department, said Wednesday. Because the Pakistani Taliban shares resources and training in Pakistan's tribal belt, Benjamin described the group as "a force multiplier for al-Qaeda."

The State Department designation allows the U.S. government to pursue financial sanctions against organizations with ties to the Pakistani Taliban. The department also announced that the U.S. government would offer a $5 million reward for information leading to the capture of Mehsud or his second-in-command.

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.

Also Wednesday, federal authorities unsealed criminal charges, which were filed Aug. 20 in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia, accusing Mehsud of conspiracy to murder U.S. citizens abroad and the use of a weapon of mass destruction - namely, a suicide bomb. The Justice Department cited a pre-recorded video released after the Dec. 30 bombing at the CIA outpost near Khost, in which Mehsud appeared alongside the alleged bomber, a Jordanian physician who had convinced the CIA that he was a U.S. ally who could deliver long-sought intelligence on the whereabouts of al-Qaeda's senior ranks.

The indictment sketched out new details in the suicide attack, saying that the Jordanian double-agent, Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, arrived at Forward Operating Base Chapman by car at 4:30 p.m. He was carrying "a crutch or cane," according to the U.S. government filing, and was dressed in traditional Afghan garb. As security guards approached, al-Balawi "was observed reaching under his clothing and then detonating an explosive device."

Seven CIA employees, including the female base chief and two Blackwater contractors, were killed. A Jordanian intelligence operative was also killed. "The legs of the suspected suicide bomber were recovered on the scene," according to the indictment, and the tissue was used to draw DNA comparisons with a known family member and confirm al-Balawi's identity. The cane was recovered, as well.

"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.

Since July, the United States has also designated for sanctions the Haqqani network, affiliated with the Afghan Taliban, and three financiers: Gul Agha Ishakzai, head of the Taliban's financial commission; Amir Abdullah, former treasurer to senior Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar; and Nasiruddin Haqqani, an emissary for the Haqqani network.

Last month, the U.S. government named as a terrorist organization Harkat-e-Jihad-e-Islami, a Pakistani group linked to al-Qaeda. Its leader, Mohammed Ilyas Kashmiri, was listed as a designated global terrorist. Earlier, the government had put terrorist designations on U.S.-born Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Aulaqi and the group al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which operates in Yemen.

Under the designations, the groups are subject to sanctions such as asset freezes, travel limits and arms embargoes.

hsus@washpost.com millergreg@washpost.com

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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