Investigators dismiss US claims that Faisal Shahzad was working under direction of Pakistani Taliban
From the London Guardian Tuesday 11 May 2010 18.57 BST
by Saeed Shah in Karachi
see also Huffington Post: "Pakistan: No Evidence Pakistani Taliban Linked To Shahzad"
Pakistani investigators have found no evidence to support American claims that the failed Times Square bomber was working under the direction of the Pakistani Taliban, the Guardian has learned.
Senior officials in Washington – including the attorney general, Eric Holder, and John Brennan, the White House's special adviser on counterterrorism – have said that the suspected bomber, Faisal Shahzad, conspired with militants in Pakistan, but a Pakistani security official with knowledge of the investigation said: "No Taliban link has come to the fore."
The interrogation of Muhammad Rehan, a friend of Shahzad who was arrested last week outside a radical mosque in Karachi, has not yielded a link to the Pakistani Taliban or any other militant group. Rehan, a member of the banned Jaish-e-Mohammad extremist group, remains the only suspected link found between 30-year-old Shahzad and the militant underworld in Pakistan.
Officials in Islamabad are perplexed and angry at statements from Washington about Shahzad's links with the Pakistani Taliban, believing that the US is exploiting the issue to apply pressure for new military offensives in Pakistan's tribal border area with Afghanistan, in the north Waziristan region.
"We have not found any involvement of Rehan [in the New York attempted bombing]. He didn't introduce Faisal Shahzad to the Pakistani Taliban," said the security official.
"There are no roots to this case, so how can we trace something back?"
An FBI team which flew into Pakistan after the arrest of Shahzad was allowed to question Rehan on Sunday. More than a dozen other suspects taken into custody in Karachi have been released, but the investigation is continuing, so new leads could yet emerge.
Rehan's arrest as he left prayers at the Karachi mosque was seized on by the international press as evidence of Shahzad's involvement with Pakistani militant groups. It emerged that Rehan and Shahzad had last year taken a 1,000-mile road trip from Karachi to Peshawar, on the edge of Pakistan's tribal area, raising further suspicions.
However, Pakistani investigators have found that Rehan was not a very active member of JEM, a violent group primarily against India and with no history of global activities. He knew Shahzad because he is related to Shahzad's wife.
Shahzad, a naturalised American citizen of Pakistani origin, told US interrogators that he had been trained in Waziristan, part of Pakistan's tribal area, according to the court charges laid against him.
After the failed attack, the Pakistani Taliban released a video in which its chief trainer of suicide bombers, Qari Hussain, appeared to claim responsibility. But that video said nothing specifically about New York, Shahzad, or a car bomb.
Since then, the Pakistani Taliban's official spokesman, Azam Tariq, has twice denied that his group was involved with Shahzad. The ineptness of Shahzad's bomb, which did not go off, also raised doubts over whether the Pakistani Taliban could have trained him.
Holder said at the weekend that the Pakistani Taliban were "intimately involved" in Shahzad's attempted bombing. Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, also warned Islamabad of "dire consequences" if a plot originating in Pakistan succeeded in the US.
But David Petraeus, the American general in charge of the Middle East and central Asia, had previously said that Shahzad was a "lone wolf" who was "inspired by militants in Pakistan but didn't have direct contact with them".
A senior Pakistani government official said: "There is a disconnect between the Pentagon and the [Obama] administration. The Pentagon gets it that more open pressure on Pakistan is not helpful."
The US focus on Pakistan's tribal area, thought to be a power base for the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaida, as well as Pakistani Taliban, continued today with another missile strike from an unmanned American drone aircraft, the third such attack since the failed Times Square bombing. The strike, in north Waziristan, reportedly killed at least 14 militants. The Obama administration has unleashed an intensive campaign of drone attacks inside Pakistani territory, targeting extremist hideouts in the tribal area.
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