Times Square bomb: If Pakistan Taliban involved, a 'game-changer'

American officials are concerned that Faisal Shahzad was trained by the Pakistan Taliban. That could mean that the terrorist group is attempting to expand its reach.

Phantom Fireworks/AFP/Newscom
In this still image from security video released by the Phantom Fireworks store in Matamoras, Penn., a man (l.) identified by the FBI as Pakistani-born US citizen Faisal Shahzad is seen buying fireworks on March 8, 2010. Authorities are investigating whether Mr. Shahzad was trained by the Pakistan Taliban.

The Times Square plot may represent a turning point for the US as it confronts the threat posed by the Pakistan Taliban, a terrorist group that up until now seemed only distant.

American officials are now increasingly concerned that Faisal Shahzad, the American arrested in New York Tuesday after an alleged attempt to detonate a car bomb in Times Square last weekend, received training from the Pakistan Taliban, according to various news reports.

That would mean that the terrorist group, which has focused on attacks in Pakistan, is now attempting to expand its reach. And it would represent a new level of complexity of the threat posed to the US. Until now, the only terrorist group deemed a major threat to attack US soil was Al Qaeda.

“It would be a game-changing development,” says Juan Zarate, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington. “You would now have a new, potential global actor coming out of western Pakistan to complement what Al Qaeda has been doing for 15 years.”

But Mr. Zarate, a former top official at the National Security Council, wonders why, if the Pakistan Taliban is in fact training individuals like Mr. Shahzad, the bombing wasn’t successful. The bomb smoldered in the back of a Nissan SUV as it was parked in Times Square Saturday, and a street vendor notified police. The bomb never detonated.

“I still think it’s odd that he wasn’t well-trained by a group that is very good at blowing things up and killing people,” Zarate says. “The level of direction is still in question here.”

The would-be attack could be seen as strategically inept on the part of the Pakistan Taliban, otherwise known as Tehrik-i-Taliban, because if anything it could galvanize American opinion against militant groups. Many Americans are still wary of the war in Afghanistan, despite President Obama’s pledge to wage it effectively with more troops and resources.

But that is a short-sighted reading, says James Carafano, a senior analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a think tank in Washington. To the Taliban, even the failed attack is a tactical success because it prompted a large reaction in the American media and by the government.

He says: “From their perspective, it’s about concepts of honor and being respected.”


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