Where in Pakistan did Faisal Shahzad learn bomb-making skills?

Jihadi training camps in Pakistan – like the one Times Square car bomb suspect Faisal Shahzad said he attended – have taught bombmaking and other skills to militants since the 1980s.

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    A Pakistani villager walks his laden bull cart past a locked house, owned by the family of New York City's Times Square bombing suspect Faisal Shahzad, in his native village of Mohib Banda, about 15 miles from Peshawar, Pakistan on Wednesday.
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Faisal Shahzad, the suspect in the attempted New York City Times Square bombing, has told investigators that he had received bombmaking training in the Pakistani region of Waziristan.

Typically, such training takes place in camps tucked away in mountainous regions like Waziristan, protected by the rugged terrain and lack of government. It's not known yet at which camp Mr. Shahzad may have spent time.

Despite a yearlong offensive by the Pakistani military and an escalation in the use of American drones, terrorist training camps have proved difficult to wipe out. Reasons include the minimal infrastructure of the camps, their remote locations, and, at times, official acquiescence.

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"The whole area is under the American and Pakistani surveillance with drone technology, so whatever training is going on must be inside compounds and must be in very well-protected areas," says Rifaat Hussein, a security expert at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad.

A compound might contain dozens of houses, but if only one is used for training, it's difficult to know that, he says. "The drone attacks can only get at those targets for which one has very credible and actionable intelligence."

A range of camps

Camps cropped up across the country during the 1980s, when Pakistan and the United States funded the training of jihadis to send to Afghanistan to fight the Soviet occupation. Some of that physical infrastructure remains, but Dr. Hussein says not much would be useful since those camps were not designed for secrecy.

Their real legacy would be the military training and the Islamist mind-set that was passed down. After the Soviets withdrew, Pakistani intelligence elements continued to support Islamist militants both in Afghanistan – groups such as Mullah Omar's Taliban and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hizb-e-Islami – and in Kashmir against India, through groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed. Some international jihadis also stayed on, forming Al Qaeda and attracting educated recruits with technical skills.

For the entire lifetime of 30-year-old Shahzad, such camps would have been part of the topography of Pakistan.

Paramilitary forces cleared one camp that lies in Shahzad's ancestral home district of Nowshera in January, a little before Shahzad flew back to the US, says the leader of the operation, commandant Safwat Gayyur of the Frontier Constabulary. The camp lay in the Nizampur area, bordering the frontier region of Kohat. No one was captured in the raid.

Reuters cites an unnamed intelligence official in Pakistan as saying that Shahzad received training in that vicinity, near the garrison town of Kohat. Kohat lies about 50 miles southwest of the camp near Nizampur. Waziristan – where Shahzad claimed to train – lies at least another 50 miles further from Kohat.

Pakistani intelligence officials say the camp trained militants for a local commander of Jaish-e-Mohammad named Tariq Afridi and a Taliban leader based in North Waziristan named Hafez Gul Bahadur.

Last year, Pakistan struck a truce with Mr. Bahadur's faction – which focuses on Afghanistan – before invading South Waziristan to fight the Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP), which focuses on targeting Pakistan. The TTP have claimed credit for the Times Square attack, but experts hesitate to jump to that conclusion given the group's desire for attention.

Temporary structures

This camp, like many others, focused on weapons and explosives training along with basic physical workouts. Such a program does not require high-tech facilities, but simply needs to be located far enough from people to maintain a low profile. Surrounding ravines and gorges, along with some bunkers, afforded the Nizampur camp privacy.

It was, however, located in the same mountain range as a training facility for the elite military commandos of the Special Services Group.

Intelligence sources say the raid on the camp came after Nowshera District started to see attacks from mortars and improvised explosive devices, as well as kidnappings for ransom.

As the military pushed through South Waziristan late last year, reporters were able to see some of the camps left behind. Imtiaz Gul, a reporter and security expert in Islamabad, says he found numerous bombmaking manuals scattered around compounds that had been cleared just weeks before. Manuals contained detailed schematics for constructing bombs, as well as information about the impacts of blasts. They were written in Arabic, indicating they had come from Al Qaeda.

In March, the military uncovered a vast network of caves and tunnels in Bajaur. Many camps, however, are not so intricate and can be easily shifted. As camps are raided, fighters flee to other hideouts and resume training.

"We are not necessarily talking about permanent structures that the military is missing or drones aren't seeing. We are talking about much smaller and mobile facilities," says Stephen Tankel, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "A camp can be where you are using a school house, and class is in session and we are teaching you to build a bomb today."

Camps can even spring up in areas surprisingly close to civilians.

Lawmaker Faiza Rasheed told the Monitor last year she had stumbled on militants training in an abandoned factory outside her home city of Haripur, a town in the heartland Punjab Province. She said she recognized various drills, such as hurling large stones, from her own days training at a camp in Afghanistan. A local official told the Monitor on the condition of anonymity that the military had known about the camp, now defunct, and that it had been involved in training militants to fight in Kashmir.

Drills, raids, and explosives training

One Punjabi militant told the Monitor last November about his time training in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir in the early 1990s. Saeen Dilawar, a Punjabi militant belonging to another group, Hizb-ut-Mujahideen, said the camp was backed by the country's premier spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence.

"We were divided according to our strengths. So those who would shoot well were given more weapons training, some concentrated on explosives," he said. All "cadets" were given basic hand-to-hand combat training and taught how to swim – a rare skill in Pakistan.

Though some analysts believe Pakistan's military establishment has given up a direct involvement in training camps, the militants have demonstrated before that they have learned their lessons well.

In a set of video CDs obtained by the Monitor from the northern town of Mingora in February 2009, prior to an Army operation to clear the area of the Taliban, militants dressed in khakis took part in weapon-loading drills, performed somersaults, and conducted mock raids on buildings.

In another scene, members of the Taliban smiled while preparing car bombs, compressing a white explosive powder with their bare feet before loading it into a small Suzuki Mehran.

Mr. Tankel notes that showing trainees how to use explosives is much simpler than teaching them how to construct a bomb. The device that Shahzad is accused of planting in Times Square failed to detonate and used nonexplosive fertilizer, among other ingredients.

"Wherever he got his training, it wasn't great quality," says Hussein.

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