Pakistan Taliban claims Times Square bomb, threatens more. How credible?

Experts cast doubt on the Pakistan Taliban’s apparent claim to have planned the Times Square bombing and its threat to attack US cities.

By , Correspondent

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    An image from a Pakistani Taliban video released by IntelCenter, shows Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud before a map of the United States with explosions on it.
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Experts on the Pakistani Taliban are dismissing out of hand the group's claims of responsibility for the car bomb placed Saturday in New York City's Times Square. The group has made false claims in the past and shows no evidence of having international reach.

The Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have posted two videos since the attack, according to US-based monitoring groups. In one, a Taliban spokesman claims the New York attack. In the second, alleged to have been filmed on April 4, TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud promises attacks inside the United States within a month. The US and Pakistan had believed Mr. Mehsud died in a drone attack back in January.

The videos do not convince experts of the Taliban's ability to strike inside America. But the audacious claims, and the mystery surrounding Mehsud's months of silence, suggest divisions within the group.

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"I doubt it very much," says Ahmed Rashid, author of "Taliban," regarding the Taliban claim of responsibility. "I think there are elements in the TTP … who would like to see the TTP become an ally of global jihad and Al Qaeda. And I don't think the bulk of Pakistani Taliban would want that."

Troubles at home

Those elements in favor of globalizing the group would be Taliban from the Punjab, the Pakistani heartland, says Mr. Rashid. Mountain-dwelling Pashtuns have traditionally dominated the group, which channels frustrations among that ethnic minority into attacks against the Pakistani state. But in recent years Punjabis – some with links to Kashmir-focused terror groups -- have been joining the movement.

One of the Punjabi terror groups, Lashkar-e Taiba (LeT), has significant networks outside Pakistan. Even if the Taliban were to piggyback on those links, experts doubt their reach would grow beyond the Indian subcontinent.

"LeT per se is definitely not globally oriented. It is definitely India- and Kashmir-oriented. And … it is also reasonably under control of the military at the moment," says Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani general. He also notes that the bomb in New York City appeared too amateur for LeT.

Terming the Taliban's claims "bluff and bluster," he suspects it's a publicity stunt designed to create the impression they have the power to retaliate for the US drone attacks.

"Even within the country they are on the defensive at the moment. To think that they are planning things in Europe or America for me looks far-fetched.”

Meanwhile, the reappearance of spotlight-craving Mehsud after so long a silence, he says, suggests that he was injured and that "the leadership is no more entirely with him."

Exaggerating their reach

The Taliban have falsely claimed an attack in the United States before. After a gunman went on a deadly shooting rampage at a New York immigration center last year, the Taliban said it was their doing.

However, the gunman, a Vietnamese immigrant named Jiverly Wong, mailed a suicide note to a TV station prior to his death in the attack in which he rants about treatment from American police.

New York officials are also dismissing Taliban ties to the Times Square bomb. Instead, they are trying to hunt down a middle-aged white man seen in surveillance video fleeing the scene.

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