Baitullah Mehsud from a recent Taliban video.
Baitullah Mehsud, the Leader of Pakistan’s unified Taliban movement, threatened to attack the US and took credit for three recent attacks in Pakistan, including yesterday’s deadly military assault on a police training center in Lahore.
During interviews with Pakistani news outlets and international wire services, Baitullah claimed responsibility for the Lahore attack attack as well as for suicide attacks against security forces in Islamabad and Bannu.
“One attack was carried out just yesterday, the one carried out on the training center [in Lahore],” Baitullah told Aaj News. “The second attack that was carried out on the special branch of police …. near a hotel in the Sitara Market [in Islamabad] was also carried out by us. And the suicide attack in Bannu yesterday was also carried out by us.”
More than 30 police recruits and officers were killed in yesterday’s military assault on the Lahore police training facility. The same day, a suicide bomber killed four security personnel and wounded three others in an attack on a military convoy in Bannu. A March 23 suicide attack outside of a Special Branch police station in Islamabad killed one policeman. Prior to the recent attack, Pakistani intelligence indicated that Baitullah Mehsud dispatched more than 20 Uzbek and Pakistani suicide bombers to Pakistan’s major cities.
Baitullah said the attacks were in response to the US airstrikes targeting al Qaeda and Taliban leaders and operatives in Pakistan’s tribal areas, and promised to strike in the US.
“We have carried out all these suicide attacks to avenge the drone attacks being carried out in the tribal areas especially in the North Waziristan and [South] Waziristan,” he told Aaj News.
“There will be more such attacks,” Baitullah told AFP, including strikes inside the US.
“Very soon we will take revenge from America, not in Afghanistan but in Washington, which will amaze the entire world,” Baitullah threatened.
The US has stepped up its not-so-covert air campaign in northwestern Pakistan. Thirty-six attacks were conducted in 2008 and 11 strikes have been carried out this year. Several senior and mid-level al Qaeda leaders have been killed in the strikes. Only 10 such attacks were conducted in 2006 and 2007 combined.
A poster of the 12 most wanted in Afghanistan released by the US military in August 2007. At the time, Baitullah Mehsud had a $50,000 bounty for his capture and Siraj Haqqani, another senior terrorist leader allied with al Qaeda had a $200,000 bounty for his capture.
Baitullah’s statements were made one day after the Fedayeen-e-Islam, a front terror group for the Jaish-e-Mohammed, claimed credit for the attack. The Fedayeen-e-Islam operates from South Waziristan and is closely allied with Baitullah’s Taliban forces.
The claims are not contradictory, as both groups work closely together under the aegis of the Lashkar al Zil, or the Shadow Army, the paramilitary terror alliance operating along the Pakistan-Afghan border. The Shadow Army is made up of elements from the the Taliban, al Qaeda, the Haqqani Network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, Harakat-ul-Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and a host of Pakistani jihadi terror groups.
Khalid Habib, the former leader of al Qaeda’s paramilitary Shadow Army, was killed in a region controlled by Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan in October 2008.
The Shadow Army’s operations can be detected in a series of attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The deadly suicide strike on the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad in September 2008 provides a good example. The Fedayeen-e-Islam took credit for the Marriott bombing, but the attack has been traced back to Baitullah Mehsud as well as Qari Saifullah Akhtar, the leader of the Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, and Qari Mohammad Zafar, the leader of the Laskhar-e-Jhangvi. All of these groups participated in the attack, under the flag of the Shadow Army.
Baitullah has risen to prominence in jihadi circles after defeating the Pakistani military during a series of hard-fought battles over the past several years. The military and government signed a peace agreement with Baitullah, which ceded control of South Waziristan to the Taliban. The US military offered a $50,000 award for the capture of Baitullah in August 2007, but this was raised to $5 million by the US State Department on March 25, 2009.
Baitullah’s threat to attack the US is not his first. Most recently, he and two other senior Pakistani Taliban leaders in North and South Waziristan formed the Council of United Mujahideen. The group swore fealty to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and the overall Taliban leader Mullah Omar and threatened to strike at the US and other countries.
The three leaders had pamphlets distributed throughout North and South Waziristan to announce the formation of the Council of United Mujahideen. The Taliban leaders have “united according to the wishes of Mujahideen leaders like Mullah Muhammad Omar and Sheikh Osama bin Laden.”
The pamphlets also said the Taliban alliance “supported Mullah Muhammad Omar and Osama bin Laden’s struggle” against the administrations of US President Barack Obama, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
The new alliance further stated it was waging war “in an organized manner'” to “stop the infidels from carrying out acts of barbarism against innocent people” just as Omar and bin Laden were waging war against Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the US.