KARACHI: The usual suspects are being rounded up but so far, no luck. Problem is, no one is ready to believe 30-year-old Faisal Shahzad when he claims he is solely responsible for the attempted bombing of Times Square in New York City.
And so, investigators in Pakistan and the US continue to sift through the chaff for that one elusive grain of wheat. Across Pakistan, the Special Investigation Group of the Federal Investigation Agency is poring over Shahzad’s telephone records. The team is said to include anti-terrorism experts who have received specialist training in Pakistan and America and have been working against Taliban and Al-Qaeda for years. Led by an army colonel in Karachi, security agencies were initially probing possible links between Shahzad and the jihadi organisations.
Eleven persons belonging to banned outfit Jaish-i-Muhammad were taken into custody and were sifted to the American consulate for grilling. But none of them have yielded satisfactory leads. Among these is suspected JM activist Taha alias Abu Bakar who is known for his expertise with explosives. A resident of Orangi in Karachi, Taha belongs to Kohat where he had been living for the last year and a half.
He had been under police surveillance and was arrested because of Shahzad’s initial claims of having trained in Pakistan. Another suspected JM activist Adnan alias Bilal has also been picked up because he’s widely known as an expert on firearms and is also said to have received explosives training. But investigators have failed to establish any links with Shahzad. Intelligence sources say, the suspects were moved from intelligence agency safe houses in Karachi to the American consulate where American officials interrogated them.
Apparently, the US officials could not be taken to the safe houses because of the security risk. The other suspects included Shahzad’s friends and in-laws, including his father-in-law Iftikhar Mian, but investigators say they haven’t found any evidence to link these people with terrorist networks. While there were some reports of a special team of US investigators having flown in to help, most within the security establishment deny this.
“A team was dispatched to Peshawar to investigate but these were US embassy people,” says one. “As for the parents, they’re currently being investigated by the FIA at Hasan Abdal,” he says. How they got there and what they’ve revealed so far, however, is being jealously guarded.
In the US, some newspapers citing American officials said there was growing evidence that the Pakistani Taliban helped to train Shahzad on how to make a bomb. The New York Times cited officials as saying that there were strong indications that Shahzad knew some members of the group and that they probably had a role in training him. These reports, say analysts, could have been fuelled by a video released by the banned Tehreek-e- Taliban (TTP) chief Hakimullah Mehsud earlier this week, in which he threatened to attack US cities to avenge US drone attacks on militant leaders. However, the main spokesman for the TTP said Thursday that the group neither trained nor recruited Faisal Shahzad.
“We don’t even know him. We did not train him,” TTP spokesperson Azam Tariq told two AFP reporters by telephone from an undisclosed location. Tariq’s assertion seems to bear out Pakistan’s official stance. Pakistan’s ambassador to the US Hussain Haqqani has said he has doubts over New York bomb plot suspect Faisal Shehzad having been trained in Waziristan, as there isn’t sufficient evidence to support his claims. Earlier, on Wednesday, Inter-Services Public Relations spokesperson Athar Abbas had said the Pakistani Taliban didn’t have the outreach to effect such an operation.
While US officials have described the bomb as amateurish and poorly rigged, no one believes Shahzad acted on his own. “[Shahzad] says it was his individual act but I wouldn’t tend to believe that,” said Interior Minister Rehman Malik. Sources within the Pakistani security establishment say investigators are now working on the possibility that Shahzad was an agent working to damage Pakistan’s reputation.
Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama has said the investigation would aim to find out whether Shahzad had any ties with foreign militant organisations and was to meet his national security team, including Defence Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and top intelligence and counter-terrorism officials, on Thursday. With reporting by Asim Awan in Islamabad and Iftikhar Firdous in Peshawar