As part of the investigation into the attempt by Faisal Shahzad, a US citizen of Pakistani origin, to cause an incendiary car bomb explosion in the Times Square of New York on May 1, 2010, the Pakistani authorities are reported to have detained a fresh group of six persons for interrogation.
Immediately after the May 1 attempt, they had detained some persons in Karachi--one of them allegedly belonging to the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM). It was reported at that time that the JEM member had taken Shahzad to Peshawar and from there to a camp of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in North Waziristan. The investigation into the role of those detained at Karachi seems to have reached a dead-end.
They have now detained a fresh group of six. This group differs from the earlier group in some respects.
First, the earlier group members were mainly from Karachi, whereas five of the six in the new group are residents of Islamabad.
Second, there were no indications of any links of the members of the previous group with the US. At least some members of the latest group from Islamabad are reported to be returnees from the US who had spent some years in the US--either as students or as workers and then returned to Pakistan to take up local jobs. They had reportedly known Fasil Shahzad when they were in the US.
Third, while those detained earlier came from middle or lower middle class families with histories of contacts with jihadi organizations such as the JEM and the madrasas in Karachi controlled by them, those of the Islamabad group seem to belong to upper middle class or affluent families with no previous history of links to jihadi organizations. It is not clear whether they had any links with the Lal Masjid of Islamabad which was raided by Pakistan Special Services Group commandoes in July,2007, during which a large number of students of the two madrasas attached to the Masjid were killed. Many of those killed were Pashtuns from the tribal belt and it was the Pashtun anger over their death which led to the formation of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its taking up arms against the Pakistani Army.
And fourth, while those detained from Karachi earlier have reportedly denied having had anything to do with the May 1 attempt, at least two of those detained in Islamabad are reported to have admitted having known Shahzad and helped him. They have allegedly admitted having helped Shahzad as part of their jihad against infidels. Were they members of the TTP? No evidence so far to prove this, but they knew how to make contacts with the TTP in North Waziristan.
It has been reported that some of those arrested in Islamabad have admitted the following:
Having helped Shahzad to contact the TTP in North Waziristan; financially helping him though it is not clear whether they helped him meet his expenses in Pakistan or whether they funded his May 1 attempt; having contacted him over phone when they found that he had not fled the US after the failed attempt and urged him to flee the US before he was caught by the local authorities.
It is still intriguing why he did not flee immediately and spent 48 hours in the US after having made the attempt.
Available particulars of those picked up in the latest round of arrests are given below:
- The owner of a large computer shop in Islamabad, who allegedly rang up Shahzad in the US after the attempt and urged him to flee. He apparently knew that it was Shahzad, who had made the attempt.
- A post-graduate in business administration from the US who worked for a cell phone company in Islamabad.
- Salman Ashraf Khan, a son of Rana Ashraf Khan, who was running a catering company in Islamabad which had links with the US Embassy, after having worked for the Pakistan International Airlines for about 20 years. After reportedly studying in Houston, Texas, Salman had returned to Pakistan and was helping his father in running the catering company. It is alleged that Salman had given some money to Shahzad.
- Shoaib Mughal,a computer dealer of Islamabad, who has allegedly admitted having helped Shahzad in contacting the TTP.
- Shahid. Full name not known. Had studied in the US and had known Shahzad in the US. Financially helped Shahzad in Pakistan.
- A cousin of Salman.
It remains to be seen whether the Pakistani authorities are able to take the investigation to its logical conclusion or the investigation reaches a dead-end as it happened in the case of the earlier arrests in Karachi, about which nobody talks now.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies