Times Square Drama: Is the Pakistani Taliban Involved?
**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
**Comments courtesy of FP’s Shadow Government and Newsweek’s Declassified**