Pakistan Taliban Wants to Be Seen As Part of Global Jihad
The Pakistani link to the attempted attack in New York City became a little firmer Tuesday. The FBI complaint filed in Manhattan federal court said Faisal Shahzad, the suspect in custody, told agents shortly after his arrest late Monday “that he had recently received bomb-making training in Waziristan, Pakistan.”
Shahzad, a Pakistani native who became a U.S. citizen last year, faces charges including committing an act of terrorism. The complaint said he had returned to the U.S. from Pakistan on Feb. 3, and had told immigration officials he had spent the previous five months in Pakistan.
South and North Waziristan are two of the seven districts making up the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the volatile region adjacent to the border with Afghanistan. Along with the neighboring North-West Frontier Province, FATA has long been a hotbed of Islamic militancy, and it is home to Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
Three messages purportedly from the TTP have emerged in recent days. One claimed responsibility for the attempted New York attack, and in two others – apparently recorded several weeks before the incident – TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud identified American cities as the group’s main target for future attacks.
A TTP spokesman named Azam Tariq told reporters in northwest Pakistan on Monday that the group knew nothing about the video clip claiming responsibility, but he confirmed that a message in which Mehsud threatens U.S. cities was genuine.
In that message, Mehsud addresses “the mujahideen of Yemen, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, and Palestine,” refers to situations in countries beyond its Pakistan base, including Afghanistan and Iraq, and declares that the U.S. has “martyred” many great Muslim leaders including “respected brothers from al-Qaeda.”
The other message – the one disowned by Tariq – also cited grievances outside of Pakistan, saying the U.S. was being attacked to avenge the deaths in April of two senior leaders of al-Qaeda in Iraq (also known as the Islamic State of Iraq, or ISI), Abu Umar al-Baghdadi and Abu Hamza al-Masri.
The TTP is an umbrella group formed in late 2007 to bring together various jihadist factions in FATA and neighboring areas. Its first leader was killed in a missile strike launched from an unmanned U.S. drone last August, and his successor, Hakimullah Mehsud, reportedly escaped a similar fate in January.
The vast majority of violent TTP activities, including frequent suicide bombings, have been aimed at Pakistan’s military and government. At least two attacks, however, have been launched against U.S. targets in the region.
The first, at the end of last year, saw seven CIA employees killed in a suicide bombing near Khost in Afghanistan. In the second, last month, the TTP launched a combination of a suicide bombing and commando-style raid on the U.S. Consulate in the north-west Pakistan city of Peshawar.
The TTP and Pakistani military have been engaged in deadly exchanges for many months in many parts of the tribal belt, with the terrorists sustaining particularly heavy losses in South Waziristan since last October.
Up to now, North Waziristan has largely been spared the fighting on the ground – although drone attacks there have become more frequent. Reports from Pakistan indicate that many TTP fighters have holed up there. Also in North Waziristan are Afghan Taliban and members of other al-Qaeda-affiliated allies, including Arabs, Chechens and Uzbeks.
Analysts Charlie Szrom and Chris Harnish at the American Enterprise Institute’s Critical Threats Project say that the TTP’s attempts to be linked to the Times Square attack could be designed to demonstrate its strength and to weaken support in Pakistan and internationally for any potential offensive in North Waziristan.
Its propaganda campaign could also aim to attract recruits and funds.
Szrom and Harnish noted the TTP desire to portray itself as part of the global Islamist network led by al-Qaeda, in particular its references to ISI leaders al-Baghdadi and al-Masri, who were killed by U.S. and Iraqi forces on April 18.
“The ISI had an elevated role within the global movement because al-Qaeda’s central leadership singled out Iraq as the future seat of an Islamic caliphate,” they said, noting that al-Qaeda franchises elsewhere had also responded passionately to the ISI leaders’ deaths.
“The TTP’s statement reflects its solidarity with the other groups in the global militant Islamist movement and highlights its position as part of the movement,” the analysts said. “Moreover, the TTP’s intention to conduct an attack (or claim to conduct an attack) in revenge for the death of an al-Qaeda leader in Iraq, shows the group’s view that Iraq is a key front in the same overall struggle in which the TTP is engaged.”
‘Muslim brothers around the world’
If the TTP eventually is linked to the Times Square attack, it will not be the only group with a presence in Pakistan’s tribal belt that views itself as part of a global jihad, has U.S. targets in its sights, and uses operatives based in Western countries.
Another group fitting that category is the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), which has claimed responsibility for attacks including suicide bombings targeting the U.S. and Israeli embassies in Uzbekistan in 2004 and a 2008 suicide attack on a U.S. military post in Afghanistan.
An IJU plot exposed by German authorities in 2007 involved the stockpiling of large quantities of explosive material for use in multiple car bomb attacks against U.S. military installations. Two of the suspects arrested in Germany had received training at IJU-run camps in Waziristan and kept in touch with Pakistani contacts after returning to Germany, according to U.S. State Department reports.
Two German Muslims were sentenced earlier this year to 12 years’ imprisonment for their part in the plot. The U.S. government said earlier that, had the attacks taken place, the casualty toll could have exceeded the 2004 train bombings in Madrid, which cost 191 lives.
Formed in 2002, the IJU is a splinter group of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, but its statements have invoked causes beyond its original campaign to topple Uzbekistan’s secular government, including the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Palestinian areas.
In a 2007 interview in Arabic, translated by the NEFA Foundation, then IJU leader Najmiddin Jalolov (aka Ebu Yahya Muhammed Fatih) said the group’s aims included helping “other Muslim brothers all around the world” and that the IJU comprised “believers from all over the world and multi-national emigrants.”
Jalolov was reportedly killed in a drone strike in North Waziristan last September, one month after the TTP’s leader was killed in similar fashion.