‘Back from dead’ Pakistan Taliban leader threatens US cities
Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud has vowed to attack major US cities in two purported new videos released months after his reported killing in a US missile strike.
The videos emerged after an attempted car bombing in New York City, for which his faction claimed responsibility in a third video, and provided the most substantial evidence so far that he survived a US attempt on his life.
However, Mehsud’s group has made false claims in the past. A little over a year ago, the group “claimed responsibility for the attack on an immigration center in New York which left 13 people dead.”
Mehsud threatened to retaliate against the United States for the killing of Islamist militant leaders, appearing in a nine-minute video allegedly made on April 4, after his supposed death in January.
The videos spotlight the Islamist militant threat in nuclear-armed Pakistan, which the United States has put on the front line of the war on Al-Qaeda and where Pakistani troops have waged multiple offensives against the Taliban.
“The time is very near when our fedayeen will attack the American states in the major cities,” said Mehsud, who was seen flanked by two armed and masked men in the video released by the SITE and IntelCenter monitoring groups.
The video is the first showing Mehsud since January and was issued on the heels of a claim by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan that it was behind the attempted bombing in New York’s Time Square on Saturday.
US officials believed Mehsud was likely killed in a US drone strike in northwestern Pakistan on January 14, but the Taliban denied his death and Pakistani intelligence officials said last week that he had survived.
Last Friday, US officials struggling to explain how he could still be alive, suggested to the Washington Post that he was at least injured and incapacitated in the US strike.
But Mehsud is not necessarily back. He may have survived the January attack, three senior intelligence officers said, but he was wounded and has been sidelined ever since. He has been replaced by Wali ur-Rehman, a South Waziristan commander who was Mehsud’s adversary in the leadership duel in August, they said.”
After the January strike, a White House official said the administration was “95 percent” certain that Mehsud had been killed. U.S. intelligence officials continued to express uncertainty, and on Thursday, a U.S. counterterrorism official said there was still no hard evidence either way. But he said it was strange that Mehsud had not emerged to resolve the mystery.
“If Hakimullah really is alive, let him prove it,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss counterterrorism operations inside Pakistan. “His group isn’t one that traditionally led from the cave, in silence. His absence is the Taliban’s problem, not ours. It’s already been shown that he can be hit.”
The Islamist leader, who took over leadership of the TTP last August, rubbished reports of his death as an “open lie and propaganda”.
“Inshaallah (God willing) very soon in some days or a month’s time, the Muslim ummah (world) will see the fruits of most successful attacks of our fedayeen in USA,” Mehsud said.
He made similar remarks in an audio message in another TTP video that was apparently recorded on April 19 and features Mehsud’s face next to a map of the United States showing multiple explosions across the country.
IntelCenter, a US-based group that monitors Islamist websites, said it believed all the TTP videos issued since the New York bomb scare were credible and said there was a “high threat of further attack” in days and weeks ahead.
But the authorities in New York discounted an Al-Qaeda link and police said they were hunting a white man seen near the bomb in Times Square.
The TTP claim of responsibility also met with scepticism in Pakistan, where the military has claimed the faction’s capability was dented following an offensive against its South Waziristan nerve centre last year.
If the allegation — made by the TTP’s master trainer of suicide bombers Qari Hussain and broadcast in a video on YouTube — was authenticated, it would be the first attack by the TTP against a target in the United States.
Mehsud assumed leadership of Pakistan’s Taliban, which is blamed for the deaths of thousands of people in attacks at home, after his predecessor Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a US drone strike in August 2009.
The January US missile attack was launched after Mehsud appeared in a video alongside the Jordanian double agent who blew himself up on a US base in eastern Afghanistan in December that killed seven CIA agents.
Islamabad has offered a reward of 50 million rupees (about 590,000 dollars) for information leading to the militant’s capture, dead or alive.
Mehsud, believed to be aged about 31, also warned members of NATO and other allies to abandon the United States, telling them: “You will face even worse humiliation, destruction and defeat than America itself.”
The videos coincided with a visit to Pakistan by General David Petraeus, the commander of the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, who held talks with Pakistan’s army chief of staff General Ashfaq Kayani, officials said.
The Pentagon said last week Mehsud was no longer running the TTP.
Rahimullah Yusufzai, one of Pakistan’s most prominent experts on the tribal belt where the Taliban are holed up, said the emergence of Mehsud in the videos was embarrassing for the US and Pakistani security establishments.
“He and the TTP are closely now aligned with Al-Qaeda and they’re making efforts for joint attacks, so he should be taken seriously. Although I don’t think he alone or TTP has the capacity to launch attacks in the US,” he said.
Meanwhile, a US drone strike on Monday killed two militants in a vehicle in Marcikhel, an Al-Qaeda and Taliban stronghold in Pakistan’s northwest tribal belt, local security officials said.
This video is from Al Jazeera, broadcast May 3, 2010.
(with AFP report)