Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

Times Square Drama: Is the Pakistani Taliban Involved?

Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan/Central Asia, United States by Dan on May 5, 2010

**This is an update to the original post below**:   I read something today by Evan Hill– who is a Middle East expert and blogger over at The Majlis- that Faisal Shahzad may have had some sort of indirect connection to Jaish-e-Muhammad, which is another Pakistani based militant group in the tribal areas.  I don’t know how accurate this report is, because the investigation is still ongoing.  But if the report is somehow true, the arrest and detention of Shahzad may provide U.S. intel agents with some good information on this terrorist group.  It’s interesting that JeM may have been involved, because this organization directs most of its attention on India rather than the west.  I’m sure more info will come up in the next few hours.


As I’m sure you have heard, New York City residents quickly discovered a suspicious vehicle Saturday night that was parked and running beside’s one of the city’s busiest streets; a suspicious vehicle that was apparently a car-bomb laced with a combination of gasoline tanks, fertilizer, canisters, and fireworks.  Obviously it was intended to cause a mass explosion, and obviously it was designed to kill or injure tourists strolling down Times Square.  Thankfully, the fuse failed to ignite properly, and the New York City Police Department arrived on the scene within minutes and responded efficiently (they are called “New York’s Finest” for a reason).

The attack could have been the deadliest incident of terrorism in the United States since September 11, 2001, but thankfully the stupidity of the perpetuators (one of whom was spotted by a security camera leaving the scene) saved the lives of dozens of people.  But it was another breach in security nonetheless, and one that surely resonate across the American political scene.  Expect Congress to pursue hearings and investigations on this plot in the weeks ahead, and don’t be surprised if you hear the White House coming out with a new counterterrorism initiative to safe their reputation.

But none of that is here nor there.  What is disturbing to me- besides the fact that a car bomb could have killed innocent bystanders- is the extreme reaction by some bloggers and academics on the web.  Mary Habeck, who recently just joined FP’s “Shadow Government” crew, is a case in point of how quickly influential people will resort to scare tactics in order to explain a potential catastrophe.  Such is her claim that this incident was planned and carried out by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, Islamabad’s #1 internal security threat.

Granted, the Pakistani Taliban did claim responsibility for the failed attack on jihadi forums in a one-minute video.  And newly reincarnated leader Hakimullah Mehsud followed this video up with one of his own, promising more attacks against American cities in the months ahead.  Yet something tells me that these videos are largely bogus attempts to take credit for something the organization had nothing to do with.  Given current circumstances, including constant espionage from U.S. drones, it would be exceedingly difficult for the TTP to order a terrorist strike of this magnitude.

Unfortunately, some analysts would like to bypass common sense for the sake of…that’s right…more fearmongering.

There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that the Pakistani Taliban was responsible for this type of attack. Their operations thus far have been contained within the South Asian region, mostly against Pakistani soldiers and civilians in the Northwest Frontier Province and in the occasional Pakistani city (like Quetta and Karachi).

If this really is a supposed attempt by the TTP to attack the United States directly, then relying on a single man of Pakistani descent is an interesting choice.  Why sacrifice the success and symbolic impact of your operation on a single individual?

Personally, I cannot take claims by the TTP seriously. The last time they “celebrated” an attack on American soil was in April 2009, when a mass shooting killed civilians in Binghamton, NY. But upon investigation into the case, it turned out that there was no connection between militant groups based in Pakistan and the incident in the remote New York state town. So how is this any different? With the Pakistani Taliban battered by U.S. drone-strikes from the air and military offensives from Pakistani soldiers on the ground, can we honestly believe that they have the capability to strike at the heart of America’s biggest city?

But don’t take my word for it. NYC Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg have both said publicly that there are no ties between the failed car bombing in Times Square and the TTP in western Pakistan.

Of course, the investigation is still ongoing.  Right now, police have acquired evidence that this could have been a plot with international dimensions. But even with this new information, it’s still unlikely that the TTP can muster a direct attack against an American city.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of FP’s Shadow Government and Newsweek’s Declassified**


9 Responses

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  1. DeBeerLight said, on May 5, 2010 at 3:41 am

    Depetris is Correct

    The analyst’s real goal here is to try and connect the failed bombing to some broader largely irrelevant opinion. What does this have to do with the Israel-Palestinian issue? The statement was clearly a ‘drive-by’ remark that does not even analyze the issue and seems to want to rebut the recent ‘revelations’ that Israel’s policy is harmful to U.S. strategic interests. And why lump all salafi groups together like they have some common vision? In Pakistan all these militant groups are starting to kill each other – each has their own fiefdoms and agendas. This piece is ridiculous, pure ignorance, and drips of an individual trying to push some pent up personal opinion on another issue through other means. Perhaps FP readers will get lucky and not have to read another article by this author.

  2. Anonymous said, on May 5, 2010 at 3:42 am

    Federal agents have made an arrest in the Times Square bombing attempt. And YouTube may have provided some clues to the investigators.
    By Noah Shachtman, Danger Room, 4 May, 2010
    “Faisal Shahzad was attempting to board a plane for Dubai when he was apprehended at New York’s JFK airport. Law enforcement officials believe the Connecticut resident recently bought the 1993 Nissan Pathfinder that was rigged with explosives and fertilizer and left smoldering in Times Square. One ‘clue in the investigation is a video posted online early Sunday morning by persons in Connecticut, who may have been involved in the bomb attempt and are being sought by law enforcement,’ ABC News reports. The YouTube website that hosted the video was created by a group calling itself the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan News Channel. The website was created one day before the failed attack, and the video was also uploaded one day before the attack, the Long War Journal reports. US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal on May 2 believed the YouTube site was created specifically to announce the Times Square attack.”

  3. Suresh Sheth said, on May 5, 2010 at 3:43 am

    Even if Pakistani Taliban did not try to carry out failed NYC car bomb attack, it does point to the fact that Pakistan remains ‘terror center’ of the world after almost nine years of Musharraf being forced to join US fight against terrorism under the dire threat by Richard Armitage and US giving billions of dollars in aid to that bankrupt country.

    US may want to ignore such a fundamental fact but Pakistan will remain a cess pool of terrorists no matter how much money US pours in that hell hole.

    That is because Pakistani governments – democratic as well as military – have created, nurtured, supported and sheltered innumerable terrorist outfits on its soil, continuously changing their identities as and when needed.

    Nobody forced Pakistani government to facilitate relocation of Osama bin Laden from Sudan to Afghanistan in 1996. Democratic government of Pakistan chose to do so of its own free will.

    Ex-CIA official Bruce Riedel said in an interview on 1/29/2009 that ”In Pakistan, the jihadist Frankenstein monster that was created by the Pakistani army and the Pakistani intelligence service, is now increasingly turning on its creators. It’s trying to take over the laboratory.” Pakistani Army and Intelligence Service (ISI) chose to create this ‘jihadist Frankenstein monster’ with full blessings and financing by Pakistan’s democratic governments in 1990s.

    Sandy Berger, Bill Clinton’s national security advisor told 9/11 Commission in March, 2004 that ’Pakistani Army was the midwife of Taliban’.

    Declassified DIA Washington D.C., “IIR (intelligence Information Report) Pakistan Involvement in Afghanistan,” dated November 7, 1996 states how “Pakistan’s ISI is heavily involved in Afghanistan,” and also details different roles various ISI officers play in Afghanistan. Stating that Pakistan uses sizable numbers of its Pashtun-based Frontier Corps in Taliban-run operations in Afghanistan, the document clarifies that, “these Frontier Corps elements are utilized in command and control; training; and when necessary combat“.

    Declassified U.S. Department of State, Cable “Pakistan Support for Taliban” from Islamabad dated Sept. 26, 2000 states that “while Pakistani support for the Taliban has been long-standing, the magnitude of recent support is unprecedented.” In response Washington orders the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad to immediately confront Pakistani officials on the issue and to advise Islamabad that the U.S. has “seen reports that Pakistan is providing the Taliban with materiel, fuel, funding, technical assistance and military advisors. [The Department] also understand[s] that large numbers of Pakistani nationals have recently moved into Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban, apparently with the tacit acquiescence of the Pakistani government.” Additional reports indicate that direct Pakistani involvement in Taliban military operations has increased.

  4. Sir flyer said, on May 5, 2010 at 3:44 am

    Resting easy!!!!!!!!!!! My God !!!! he was on the plane taxing out of the airport thats not “”ACCEPTABLE ” at all these airlines better get thieir act together soon

  5. ok4u said, on May 5, 2010 at 3:44 am

    “Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters Tuesday that accused New York City terror bomber Faisal Shahzad had provided “useful” intelligence to authorities after he was escorted off an airplane at John F. Kennedy Airport last night and questioned by FBI agents.”

    Faisal Shahzad? This doesn’t sound at all like the white tea-party type we were breathlessly waiting to uncover.

  6. Glo25420 said, on May 5, 2010 at 3:45 am

    Hanging should be the mandatory sentence for terrorism. After a speedy trial of course.

  7. Chief77777 said, on May 5, 2010 at 3:46 am

    Sure he acted alone…trained terrorists aren’t that stupid to try to blow up a bomb with fire crackers! Real terrorists unfortunately are much more successful……unfortunastely. This guy is a lone cuke!

  8. anan said, on May 5, 2010 at 5:56 am

    TTP shares common members with other terrorist groups. They might have had a role in 2008 Mumbai (Headley was probably a memeber of IJU and LeT simultaneously. He might also have been a member of TTP.) TTP has tried to organize terrorist attacks in Europe.

    Pakistani Taliban (not necessarily TTP) have been involved in terrorist attacks against Iraqi civilians.

    The nexus between the TTP, TNSM, LeT, LeJ, Siraj Haqqani, Uighars, IJU, IMU, AQ might be the greatest security threat in the world today.

    All of them share a Takfiri vision to establish global righteousness and purify the Ummah from impure muslims. To do this; they think need to take out the institutions of global usury, vise and temptation (global financial/economic system.)

    Why is it so hard to believe that this probable terrorist suspect could have been in contact with and manipulated by Pakistani based terrorist groups? They operate semi openly in Pakistani cities. At least they did until months ago.

    • Dan said, on May 5, 2010 at 5:26 pm

      I’m not necessarily saying that Shahzad perpetuated the attack entirely on his own. In fact, U.S. investigators have openly said that his cell phone records show that he may have been in contact with a few people from his hometown in Pakistan. Pakistani authorities have already arrested seven people that they regard as either complicit in the botched attack or connected in some malign way.

      All I am saying is that we shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that the most powerful terrorist group in North Waziristan- the Pakistani Taliban- is entirely responsible. Like you suggest, North Waziristan is chock-full of insurgent groups that have grievances against the United States, including remnants of Al’Qaeda Central, Punjabi extremist groups, radical anti-Shia organizations,and Chechen militants. All of these are possibilities, or perhaps all of them had a hand in the plot. We don’t know as of yet.

      But what we do know is that counterterrorism officials should not jump the gun here and take the investigation into a direction that could prove fruitless. Explore all avenues before making judgments, which is precisely what U.S. Intel agents are doing right now.

      By the way, take a look at this WaPo op-ed by Ahmed Rashid….you may be interested: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/04/AR2010050402601_pf.html

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