Terrorism suspect Faisal Shahzad’s alleged path to Times Square reflects what experts say is a militant support network that spans Pakistan and is eager to shepherd aspiring terrorists from around the globe.
In this teeming southern metropolis, authorities are focusing on a domestic militant outfit that might have escorted Shahzad to distant northern peaks where US investigators allege he received training with the Al Qaeda-affiliated Pakistani Taliban. In Pakistan’s heartland, extremist organisations freely build compounds and campaign with politicians, while their foot soldiers fight alongside the Taliban in the borderlands, intelligence officials say.
The overall picture is one of a jumbled scaffolding of militancy that supports Al Qaeda and the Taliban with money and safe houses, and can provide entrance tickets to mountain training camps for aspiring terrorists, one US counterterrorism official said.
Although the planners of most serious terror plots against the West in recent years have received direction or training from groups in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, the reach of extremist organizations across Pakistan underscores the limits of Pakistani military offensives and of US airstrikes that target the Taliban and al-Qaeda only along the frontier.
“Our cells are working everywhere,” one Pakistani Taliban fighter said in a telephone interview. New foreign recruits, among them Europeans and Americans, undergo days of isolation and “complete observation” by militants outside the tribal areas before gaining access to camps.
Many such aspirants do not make it, the Taliban fighter said, because they are deemed to be spies. That happened to five Northern Virginia men, who were rebuffed by Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-i-Tayyeba last year despite the reference of an online recruiter.
However, those aspirants deemed sincere represent a one in a million opportunity to strike in the West, said Masood Sharif Khattak, a former Pakistani Intelligence Bureau chief.
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