U.S. officials are reportedly making progress in investigations of the plot to bomb Times Square through questioning of suspected attacker Faisal Shahzad and with help from Pakistani authorities who have rounded up several of Shahzad’s contacts in Pakistan. Despite initially telling U.S. investigators that he acted alone, Shahzad later said he received explosives training at a terrorist camp in the tribal border areas of Pakistan. This information does not fully comport, however, with other reporting that his bomb making skills were amateurish. He apparently made the simple mistake of using the wrong type of fertilizer, which contributed to the ineffectiveness of the explosive device.
Information suggests he may have had contact with Pakistan-based terrorist groups and individuals that have long been under the U.S. intelligence radar. One of Shahzad’s contacts in Pakistan attended a mosque in Karachi with links to Jaish-e-Mohammed, the group involved in the 2002 murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearle. Another report says Shahzad may have met Ilyas Kashmiri, the commander of Harakat-ul-Jihadi-Islami – another group that fought India in Kashmir throughout the 1990s but is increasingly focusing its attacks on the U.S. and other western nations.
Shahzad’s confession to attending a terrorist training camp in northwest Pakistan has led investigators to take the claim by the Pakistani Taliban that it was behind the attempted attack more seriously. The Pakistani Taliban has been victim to numerous U.S. drone strikes along the Pakistani-Afghan border and would certainly have sufficient motive to attack the U.S. homeland. However, the group has made previous claims of responsibility for attacks in the U.S. that turned out to be false. Pakistani Army Spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said the Pakistani Taliban claim should be “taken with a pinch of salt.”
The investigation of Faisal Shahzad and the quality of U.S.-Pakistan cooperation on the case is likely to have major implications for the future of the U.S.-Pakistan partnership. Pakistan in the past has been reluctant to pursue aggressively militants whose main purpose is to attack India. If militants linked to India-focused groups like the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba and/or Jaish-e-Mohammed turn out to be involved in any way in the attempted Times Square attack, Pakistan’s response will likely serve as a litmus test for future U.S. engagement with Pakistan.
Some Pakistani security strategists have long believed they can pursue a dual policy of tolerating some terrorists while fighting others. The increased links among the various militant groups operating inside Pakistan have made this policy untenable. While investigations of Faisal Shahzad are so far inconclusive, it is possible he was in contact with terrorists affiliated with groups previously supported by Pakistan’s intelligence service.