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Times Square bomb attempt: Terror group's claim of responsibility met with skepticism

Experts say evidence is lacking to support the Pakistani Taliban's claim in a video made public Monday that it was behind Saturday's failed car bomb attack in New York.

May 03, 2010|By Alex Rodriguez and Laura King | Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

Reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan, and Kabul, — Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mahsud warned in video released Monday that his insurgent group has deployed suicide bombers in the U.S. and that they would soon carry out attacks in major American cities.

The video, which showed Mahsud flanked by two militants wearing white veils, came as U.S. law enforcement officials said there was no evidence to support a Pakistani Taliban claim of responsibility for a car bomb found in downtown New York during the weekend. Skeptical analysts said they believed the militant group lacks the capability or reach to carry out such missions in the U.S.

"Our [suicide bombers] have penetrated the terrorist America," Mahsud said in the video, which he said was made April 4. "We will give extremely painful blows to the fanatic America."

Mahsud's appearance in the video confirmed that the young Taliban leader had survived a U.S. drone missile strike along the border between North and South Waziristan in January. Dressed in Pashtun garb with an automatic rifle at his side, Mahsud said he was "alive and healthy."

Officials had claimed that he died in the January missile strike, until Pakistani security officials last week confirmed that he survived the attack.

A separate 71-second video posted on the Internet on Monday claimed that the Pakistani Taliban planned an attack in Times Square in retaliation for the U.S. drone missile strike that killed the insurgent group's leader, Baitullah Mahsud, in August. A voice speaking in Urdu states that the group "takes full responsibility for the recent attack in the USA."

Law enforcement officials on Monday continued their investigation of the incident in New York, in which a sport utility vehicle was found in Times Square on Saturday carrying materials including plastic cans filled with gasoline, M-88 firecrackers, three propane tanks, wires and two alarm clocks.

Some analysts doubted Mahsud's claims that suicide bombers were poised to unleash a wave of attacks in U.S. cities. The Pakistani Taliban's mission is focused on battling the government in Islamabad, they said, and the group does not have the logistics in place to carry out attacks thousands of miles from their strongholds in the tribal belt along the Afghan border.

"They want to build an image that says, 'We are capable of reaching your home and hurting you,' " said Amir Rana, a security analyst with the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies. "But they don't have that capability."

The militant group has previously claimed responsibility for an attack in the U.S. in which it was not involved. Baitullah Mahsud had falsely claimed that the Taliban carried out a mass shooting in Binghamton, N.Y., that killed 14 people in April 2009.

During its two-year existence, the Pakistani Taliban has focused its attention largely on attacking Pakistani security forces and civilians. It has directed many of its suicide bombings on U.S. and Western targets in Pakistan, but it has never carried out an attack outside South Asia.

It did claim a role in the December suicide bombing of a CIA base in Afghanistan near the Pakistani border, an attack that killed seven CIA employees and contractors. That base, located near Khowst, was again targeted by a suicide car bomb attack Monday that killed one Afghan civilian and injured two Afghan security guards.

alex.rodriguez@latimes.com

laura.king@latimes.com

Rodriguez reported from Islamabad and King reported from Kabul.

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