Four days after the failed car bombing attack in New York City’s Times Square, senior officials in the Obama administration have grudgingly begun to accept that the Pakistani Taliban are likely involved in the plot.
Obama administration officials said today that there “strong indications” that Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani-born naturalized American citizen “knew some members” of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, The New York Times reported.
“Somebody’s financially sponsoring him, and that’s the link we’re pursuing,” an administration official told The New York Times, noting that Shahzad received money from Dubai to purchase the Nissan Pathfinder used in the failed attack and his one-way airline ticket to Pakistan following the attack. “And that would take you on the logic train back to Pak-Taliban authorizations.”
The administration’s admission that Shahzad and the attempted bombing link back to Pakistan marks a departure from its early view that the attack was likely a purely domestic incident. One day after the attack, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano described the attack as a “one-off” and “amateurish,” and over the next two days administration officials continued to downplay or deny possible links to international terror groups, despite early clues suggesting such involvement.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was more direct and put the blame on domestic terrorists. “If I had to guess 25 cents, this would be exactly that, somebody who’s homegrown, maybe a mentally deranged person or someone with a political agenda that doesn’t like the health care bill or something, it could be anything,” Bloomberg told CBS News.
Evidence of link to the Pakistani Taliban was available in the first 24 hours
But evidence that the Pakistani Taliban may have played a role in the attack emerged almost immediately after firefighters and police dismantled the crudely-made bomb in Times Square on the evening of May 1. On the morning of May 2, a person who claimed to be from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan News Channel notified The Long War Journal that an audiotape of Taliban commander Qari Hussain Mehsud was posted on a YouTube site. The email was titled “Qari Hussain Mehsud from Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan accepts the responsibility of recent Attack on Times Square Newyork USA.”
On the video, Qari Hussain, who is a master bomb maker and trainer of suicide bombers for the Taliban, said the attack was launched to avenge the deaths of top terrorist leaders, punish the US for conducting Predator airstrikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas, and avenge the arrest and detention of Pakistani scientist Aifa Siddique.
“This attack is a revenge for the great & valuable martyred leaders of mujahideen,” Qari Hussain said. He listed Baitullah Mehsud, the former leader of the Pakistani Taliban who was killed in a Predator strike in August 2009, and Abu Omar al Baghdadi, the former leader of al Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq who was killed by Iraqi forces in mid-April.
US authorities clearly were aware of the Qari Hussain video, and had the video pulled from YouTube within hours after the The Long War Journal received the email notification of its existence.
On the evening of May 2, the Taliban spokesman sent The Long War Journal another email that pointed to the location of an audio tape and a video tape of Hakeemullah Mehsud, the top commander of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. The email was titled “Hakeemullah Mehsud is Alive and Healthy and Delivering news about Attacks on USA.” The audio and video tapes were produced in April. On the tapes, Hakeemullah denied the multiple reports of his death and threatened the US with further attacks.
“The time is very near when our fedayeen will attack the American states in their major cities,” Hakeemullah said. “And Inshallah (god willing) we will give extremely painful blows to the fanatic America.”
The videos were difficult to dismiss, as the timing of the release of the tapes is significant. Ordinarily, the Taliban and al Qaeda have a long lead time, often one to two weeks, from the recording to the release of their tapes.
But more importantly, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan News Channel website on which the Qari Hussain tape appeared was created on April 30, just one day prior to the attack. The Qari Hussain tape was also uploaded on April 30. US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal on May 2 said they believed that the website was created expressly for the purpose of claiming credit for the Times Square attack.
Other pieces of evidence also emerged within the first few days that directly linked Shahzad to Pakistan and the Taliban. The night that Shahzad was arrested, US intelligence contacted by The Long War Journal said they believed he had spent time in al Qaeda or Taliban training camps in North Waziristan.
The next day, on May 4, the criminal complaint filed by US attorneys against Shahzad stated that he admitted “he had recently received bomb-making training in Waziristan, Pakistan.” A report from Pakistan indicated that he may have also trained at a camp in Kohat near Peshawar. Another report indicated that Shahzad had met with Qari Hussain.
Also on May 4, reports surfaced that two of Shahzad’s friends with links to the al Qaeda and Taliban-friendly Jaish-e-Mohammed terror group were detained in Karachi, Pakistan.
But as much as the information that was available to the public showed a direct connection to Pakistan, the information gathered by the FBI and New York City Police Department during the investigation immediately after the failed bombing should also have pointed to Pakistan, and by default a link to one of the multitude of al Qaeda-linked terror groups based there. Shahzad’s status as a newly naturalized citizen from Pakistan, his family ties to Pakistan’s northwest, his recent return from a five-month trip there, his phone calls to and from Pakistan, and other evidence should have raised alarm bells during the investigation.
The reasons for the administration’s decision to quickly discount a foreign connection remain unclear, but the end result was that partisans feuded over phantom domestic terrorists while the Taliban accepted responsibility.