Pakistan Taliban leader alive, threatens U.S. attacks
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - The leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud, reported killed in a CIA drone aircraft attack in January, has appeared alive in Internet videos, threatening revenge suicide strikes in the United States.
Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Taliban Movement of Pakistan, has focussed on fighting the Islamabad government and never yet proved capable of carrying out overseas operations.
Even so, the possibility the TTP may have global aspirations may worry Washington because of the group's ties with al Qaeda, which carried out the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States and has bases along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
The warnings were posted on the Internet on Sunday shortly after the TTP said it was responsible for an attempted car bomb attack in New York's Times Square on Saturday evening.
"The time is very near when our Fedayeen (fighters prepared to sacrifice themselves) will attack the American states in their major cities," warned Mehsud, who said the video was recorded on April 4.
"Our Fedayeen have penetrated the terrorist America. We will give extremely painful blows to the fanatic America."
New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said there was "no evidence" to support the Taliban's claim. Police found the car bomb, defused on Saturday evening, in a sport utility vehicle in area was packed with tourists and theatre-goers.
The TTP remains defiant despite a series of Pakistani army offensives in the northwest, keeping up suicide bombings that have raised questions about stability in nuclear-armed Pakistan, an ally the U.S. needs to help stabilise Afghanistan.
The group surprised observers with its apparent involvement in a suicide bombing near Khost in eastern Afghanistan on December 30. That strike killed seven U.S. Central Intelligence Agency employees in the second worst attack in the spy agency's history.
Mehsud appeared in a farewell video with the Jordanian double agent who carried out the operation. His new appearance, the first since reports of his death in January, is bound to focus attention again on the group and its alliance with al Qaeda.
Brian Fishman, counter-terrorism research fellow at the New American Foundation, said al Qaeda's ties with the TTP were cause enough for concern, even if the Taliban lacked global reach.
"This is the threat from al Qaeda today: its ability to manipulate and influence existing militant groups rather than build up their own capacity," he said.
"Influencing other groups so those groups take on al Qaeda's mission to support al Qaeda's global goal."
Some analysts say the TTP is simply trying to rattle the United States, Pakistani government and ordinary Pakistanis, many of whom reject its violence. Offensives have hurt the group, the army says.
"They are just telling the world they can do anything, that they're important," said Mansur Khan Mahsud, head researcher at Islamabad's FATA research group.
"By releasing these videos or claiming the responsibility for attacks in America, they are trying to show the people they are good mujahedeen (holy warriors), and they are powerful."
The Pakistan Taliban came under renewed pressure on Monday after security forces killed 16 militants in clashes in the northwestern lawless regions, government officials said. In another incident, at least three militants were killed when a pilotless drone aircraft fired missiles at their vehicle in the northwest, intelligence officials said.
The TTP said it planted the Times Square bomb to avenge the killing in April of al Qaeda's two top leaders in Iraq as well as U.S. interference in Muslim countries.
"Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan takes responsibility for the attack in America with pride and valour," said Qari Hussain, the notorious mentor of Taliban suicide bombers, in one of the tapes, which did not refer specifically to the Times Square incident.
In April 2009, the FBI ruled out a TTP claim that it was behind a shooting attack on a U.S. immigration assistance centre in New York state in which 13 people were killed.
Kamran Bokhari, regional director for the Middle East and South Asia at STRATFOR global intelligence firm, described the latest Taliban claim as bogus.
"That said, these claims and the attack on that CIA facility (in Afghanistan) show that the TTP is very much a part of the al Qaeda-led transnational jihadist movement," he said.
(Additional reporting by Kamran Haider, Zeeshan Haider and Chris Allbritton; Editing by Nick Macfie)
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