PESHAWAR, Pakistan May 7, 2010— -- American officials' growing certainty that failed Times Square bomber received regular guidance from the Pakistani Taliban and contacted other terrorist groups will put pressure on Pakistan to expand offensives against terror groups.
The apparent ease with which Faisal Shahzad came into contact with multiple terrorist organizations has prompted Pakistani intelligence officials to broaden their investigation beyond the Taliban and question a handful of members of a sectarian terrorist group in the southern port city of Karachi.
It is also forcing Pakistan to consider military operations in areas and against groups that have largely been left alone by recent campaigns.
Shahzad's connection to the Taliban was "regular" and "substantial," says a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Shahzad linked up with the Pakistani Taliban online, according to separate law enforcement and intelligence officials close to the investigation, making him their first known Western recruit.
Shahzad's connection to the Taliban was "regular" and "substantial," says a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. shahzad linked up with the Pakistani Taliban online, according to separate law enforcement and intelligence officials close to the investigation, making him their first known Western recruit.
But Pakistani officials suspect the Taliban kept Shahzad at arms length out of fear he was an American agent. That is reinforced, they say, by the crudeness of the bomb and what one senior Pakistani government official called a "comedy of errors" in how he executed his plot.
"These groups might give disgruntled young people from America some guidance, but they don't expose them to first-rate trainers, nor will they take them into their sanctuary," the senior Pakistani government official said. "What these groups fear is that they're CIA."
Faisal Shahzad's Contacts With Other Terror Groups
Perhaps more worrying than Shahzad's Taliban connection is how he seems to have tapped into a terrorist infrastructure in which formerly separate groups have begun to collaborate.
Pakistani intelligence officials are questioning a handful of men in Karachi, some of whom are believed to be linked to Jaish-e-Muhammad, a group that primarily targeted Indians in Kashmir but since 9/11 has turned against the Pakistani state. The group has also attacked Westerners before, suspected of helping kidnap and kill Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002.
If they helped serve as Shahzad's entry point to the Pakistani Taliban, it would cement a growing fear that Pakistan's disparate terror groups are now combining their forces.
"The bottom line is these groups are increasingly cooperating with one another," says a senior U.S. official. "Our assessment is that these groups are increasingly fungible, even if they don't share a command structure. The old structures where this group fought in one place and that group fought in another place are dead."
American and Pakistani officials have, for the past year or so, described how fighters from various groups often switch allegiances. But it's not clear that the groups have collaborated before to attack the West.
"The [Pakistani Taliban] and others in Pakistan that have grown closer to Al-Qaeda are a real threat to the United States and to the West in general going forward," says Brian Fishman, a research fellow at West Point's Combating Terrorism Center and a fellow at the New America Foundation. "We can't just focus on Al-Qaeda any more. There is an entire milieu of groups."
One of the first men taken into custody in Karachi was Muhammed Rehan, who officials believe helped introduce Shahzad to the Taliban.
A Pakistani intelligence official says Rehan is also a suspected member of Jaish-e-Muhammad. While the group is banned in Pakistan, it has not been the targeted as the Pakistani Taliban have been. Pakistan recently cleared the Taliban's safehaven, and U.S. officials have praised those operations and expanded CIA drone strikes to target senior Taliban militants.
Pakistan and U.S. Cooperation Against Terror Groups
But Pakistan has not made as concerted an effort to target groups that have historically attacked India -- groups created with the help of Pakistan's military and intelligence services. Those groups are based in Punjab, Pakistan's breadbasket and the province from which the majority of its military is recruited.
Pakistan has bristled at the thought of any kind of military campaign against the groups based there, and both Pakistani and American officials point out the infrastructure will not be rooted out by traditional operations.
"We have to be smarter, go after their financing, their physical space. Reduce any cross border cooperation," says the senior U.S. official.
That can only be done with cooperation, U.S. officials said.
Many of those officials strike a different tone when discussing Pakistan as a terrorist hub than they used to, a sign that the two countries have been working extensively together and have grown closer diplomatically as well as through their intelligence agencies.
And so depending on the nature of the links to Shahzad, the pressure on Pakistan will likely not come as public criticism.
"Look, what we're going to say is what we've been saying all along: progress has been made, but there's a lot more work to be done," says a separate U.S. official. "The Pakistani Taliban are nowhere near what they were last year. But there still hasn't been a crackdown on the Punjabi groups. We will have a discussion about that."