Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani-American who tried to set off a car bomb in Times Square, has numerous links to the Taliban in Pakistan and there are increasing indications that he was not a “lone wolf” as was initially assumed. The plot is proof that the Taliban is just as much a terrorist group as Al-Qaeda and must be treated the same way.
The media and public officials were quick to say that the attacker was probably a “lone wolf” and perhaps not even a Muslim. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, “If I had to guess 25 centers…[it’s] 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.” General Petraeus, amazingly, has just said that Shahzad is a “lone wolf” that was only inspired by Pakistani terrorists, and did not have direct contact with them. This theory is laughable in the face of new evidence.
Shahzad says he was inspired by Anwar al-Awlaki, a top Al-Qaeda leader in Yemen that has been connected to the failed Christmas Day bomber and the Fort Hood shooter. One report says that he is claiming to have actually met al-Awlaki, the Pakistani Taliban’s leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, and a member of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the terrorist group behind the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai. Federal officials stress that he may be exaggerating his connections and they have not yet verified his claims, but other links substantiate what he’s saying.
It is known that he spent five months in Pakistan and he has admitted receiving training from members of the Taliban in North Waziristan. His father was a high-level official in Pakistan’s Air Force, which may explain why the authorities have found that his family and that of Emir Beitullah Mehsud, a Taliban leader killed in 2009, share a long friendship. Shahzad also has a friendship since childhood with one of the key operatives involved in the Mumbai attacks, giving credence to his claims of meeting Hakimullah Mehsud and a Lashkar-e-Taiba member.
The Pakistani authorities have arrested at least seven people suspected of being connected to Shahzad, including Muhammed Rehan, who is believed to have traveled with him and acted as his liaison. Rehan was arrested as he left a mosque known to be frequented by members of Jaish-e-Mohammed. Five American recruits that traveled to Pakistan to join the Taliban and Al-Qaeda were arrested at the home of a Jaish-e-Mohammed member in December. Tohaid Ahmed, another JEM member, was detained after he was found to be exchanging emails with Shahzad. Phone records reveal that Shahzad had been communicating with people in Pakistan in the time leading up to the attack and CBS News reports that he flew to Pakistan at least a dozen times in the past 11 years.
Shahzad is now believed to have been trained at a camp run by Qari Hussain Mehsud, the Taliban’s top instructor in suicide bombing and explosives, providing another indication that he was not lying about meeting the top Pakistani Taliban leader, who is the official’s cousin. Qari Hussain Mehsud appeared on a tape to claim credit for the Times Square plot, but he was quickly dismissed. However, officials are saying that his video was recorded prior to the attack, indicating that he knew of it in advance. The YouTube channel that the video was uploaded to was called “Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan” and was started one day before the attempted bombing. It is noteworthy that whoever posted the video did so in Connecticut, where Shahzad lived before moving to Pakistan. This same channel was used to release the two videos showing that Hakimullah Mehsud was not killed as the U.S. had previously thought.
Pakistani terrorists are suspected of financing Shahzad’s acquisition of the ticket for the plane he wanted to use to escape the country and the vehicle he tried to blow up. He was originally put on a Department of Homeland Security watch list for bringing $80,000 in cash between 1998 and 2008. Since 2007, he was not paying bills on time, defaulted on two loans for his home, and is not believed to have had a job since February when he came back to the U.S. from Pakistan. Someone else had to have supplied the money to pay for his rent, his travel, and the expenses of his plot and planned escape.
Strangely, despite the videos claiming responsibility, a Taliban spokesman has denied that the group trained or even had contact with Shahzad. All of the indications are that this is false. It is possible that the Taliban are now worried that the failed plot will make the Pakistani government unable to withstand U.S. pressure for further offensives into their strongholds. It is equally possible that the Taliban’s allies in the Pakistani government have asked them to deny responsibility, as sources in Pakistani intelligence are telling the media that there is no way the Taliban has such capabilities.
The Pakistanis are currently refusing to launch an operation in North Waziristan, saying that its armed forces are too tied up and further action could jeopardize counter-insurgency efforts in the Swat Valley and South Waziristan, even though they recently held 50,000-strong exercises near the border of India. If the Times Square plot is officially linked to North Waziristan and terrorist groups the Pakistanis have been reluctant to stomp out, the U.S. is going to demand the removal of their safe havens there.
Officials should not be so quick to dismiss an apparent homegrown terrorist as being unconnected from the international networks, as anyone sympathetic to radical Islamic causes will seek out the bases in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere. Voices in favor of a more law enforcement-oriented approach to fighting terrorism are sure to emphasize “lone wolf” theories, but these “lone wolves” almost always end up being connected to foreigners, and at the very least, homegrown jihad is a symptom of an overseas disease.