Top US officials said on Sunday that Taliban militants in Pakistan were behind the failed bomb attempt in Times Square, in statements that increased pressure on Pakistan.
In appearances on US news programmes, Eric Holder, attorney general, and John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, said that Faisal Shahzad, who has confessed to the bomb attempt this month, was working with the Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP), a Pakistani militant Islamist group. Mr Shahzad also said he received bomb training in the Pakistani Taliban redoubt of Waziristan.
“We’ve now developed evidence that shows that the Pakistani Taliban was behind the attack,” Mr Holder told ABC News. “We know that they helped facilitate it. We know that they probably helped finance it and that he was working at their direction.”
The accusations, which follow what US officials say are extensive interrogations of Mr Shahzad, highlight the seemingly increased reach of a militant group that had not previously attacked the US mainland. Hakimullah Mehsud, a TTP leader previously thought killed by a CIA drone strike, recently threatened attacks on US cities.
Mr Brennan and other top US officials have long argued that while the pressure of drone strikes has made it very difficult for al-Qaeda to plan and execute an attack on the scale of 9/11, there is still a great risk of smaller scale attacks by associated groups.
Pakistani security officials say they are investigating reports that during a trip to Pakistan last year, Mr Shahzad met with Qari Hussain, the architect of the Taliban campaign to carry out suicide attacks. “At least 15 suspects are presently under interrogation,” said one official, referring to people from Taliban-linked groups. “There could be more as we proceed.”
The Pakistani army declared the TTP “knocked out” and “destroyed” after a military offensive in South Waziristan last year, but the US has been stepping up calls for Pakistan to make a push against the group in neighbouring North Waziristan as well.
“We’ve made it very clear that if, heaven-forbid, an attack like this that we can trace back to Pakistan were to have been successful, there would be very severe consequences,” said Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State, in an interview with CBS on Sunday night. Although she said greater co-operation from Pakistan in the past year represented a “sea change”, she added: “We want more; we expect more.”
A Pakistani security official said on Sunday that “pushing Pakistan to attack this target or that target without thinking through the consequences will jeopardise what we have gained”.
But Mr Holder said the US would be making more requests of Pakistan in “coming days”. He also said militant groups were “looking for people with clean skins …not people who you might expect to be involved in these kinds of activities”, and added that the administration would soon ask Congress for greater flexibility over when to read terrorism suspects their rights. The administration has been criticised by Republicans for decisions to read suspects their rights and enter them into the civilian criminal process rather than subjecting them to military commissions. But officials say many suspects have co-operated even after being read their rights.
● A US drone aircraft fired two missiles into a Taliban compound in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region on the Afghan border on Sunday, Reuters reports, killing nine militants, Pakistani security officials said.
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