Which Pakistani group inspired Times Square suspect?

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Evidence of ties between the failed New York bomber and Pakistan’s Taliban may only lead investigators to a murky militant network that is difficult to crack and offers no clues on possible future attacks.

Pakistan’s Taliban claimed responsibility for the attempted bombing on Saturday and a US official said investigators see “plausible links” between Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad, the main accused, and the group but had not yet made a final determination.

Reconstructing his path to Times Square may be impossible given the complexity of Pakistan’s mosaic of militant groups, many of which are united only by hatred for America and its allies.

For one, al Qaeda, which supports the Taliban, has changed since the Sept. 11 attacks.

It’s no longer a tightly knit group, but rather an organisation that inspires global jihad, and is in some ways even more dangerous, analysts say. Its ties to Pakistan’s Taliban and other groups around the world have become more fluid.

Gone are the days when CIA analysts could draw up clear charts connecting Osama bin Laden to his deputies, commanders, foot soldiers and affiliated groups, security experts say.

“We can no longer determine the precise makeup. The traditional al Qaeda or Taliban no longer exist. There are vague ties between groups,” said Kamran Bokhari, South Asia director at the STRATFOR global intelligence firm.

Officials say Shahzad received bomb-making training in a militant camp in Pakistan, which once nurtured groups to fight Soviet occupation in Afghanistan, a strategy that critics say backfired and created a hydra-headed monster in Pakistan.

Who may have hosted the former 30-year-old financial analyst from the US state of Connecticut may never be known.

Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Taliban Movement of Pakistan, is an umbrella group which may not have a central command after Pakistani army crackdowns and a punishing U.S. drone strike campaign.

Speculation grew that someone new may be in control after the Taliban’s particularly ruthless leader Hakimullah Mehsud was reported killed in a US drone missile strike in January.

Who is who?

He re-appeared alive in videos posted on the Internet on Sunday and threatened suicide bombing attacks in major US cities, signalling the group had become highly ambitious.

“It is hard to know who Shahzad may have connected with. It could have been a smaller group within the TTP that decided to act independently,” said political analyst Hasan Rizvi.

US prosecutors said Shahzad, the son of a retired Pakistani vice air marshal, had admitted to receiving bomb-making training in a Taliban and al Qaeda stronghold in Pakistan.

In an example of the complexities, Qari Hussain, the Pakistani Taliban suicide bombing trainer, praised an attack in the United States, apparently referring to Times Square.

On Wednesday night, an official Taliban spokesman said the group had no connection to the failed attack.

The contradiction is not surprising given Pakistan’s alphabet soup of militant groups, many believed to have al Qaeda links. There are Taliban — both Afghan and Pakistani — and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which is blamed for the 2008 attack in Mumbai which killed 166 people and has international networks.

The list goes on.

A senior security official said Shahzad may have links to the banned Jaish-e-Mohammad militant group through a friend, Muhammad Rehan, who was reportedly detained on Tuesday in Karachi.

The group, also linked to the Taliban and al Qaeda, is dedicated to fighting Indian forces in Kashmir and has been designated a foreign terrorist organisation by the United States.

Unlike LeT, one of the more cohesive of the Pakistani groups, Jaish-e-Mohammad is believed to have splintered and gone rogue. It has been blamed for attacks inside Pakistan and tied to plots either in Britain or by British citizens inside Pakistan, including the murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002.

A new generation of militants with different priorities is appearing in Pakistan, analysts say, raising questions over whether old alliances between the military and its intelligence services and Islamists have frayed.

In one possible sign of that, a former Pakistani intelligence officer turned campaigner for Islamist causes was found dead in last week, shot in the head and chest, security officials said.

Khalid Khawaja was seized in March with another former colleague from the country’s main ISI spy agency and a journalist. Militants later said they had kidnapped the three, whom they accused of spying.

Pakistan media had reported they were kidnapped by a previously unknown militant group called the Asian Tigers. “Groups are emerging every day and you have not heard of them. I can only presume that intelligence agencies, American and Pakistanis, are equally…confused,” said Taliban expert Ahmed Rashid.

“Look at the re-appearance of Hakimullah. I mean he was presumed dead. That means that intelligence all around is very poor, not just Pakistani, but also American.”

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