Pakistan investigates NY bomb plot Taliban link
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan is investigating whether a Pakistani-American arrested over a botched plot to bomb New York's Times Square met Pakistani Taliban leaders in their stronghold in the northwest, a minister said on Saturday.
Pakistani investigators were trying to verify information provided by the United States that the suspect, Faisal Shahzad, 30, had visited South Waziristan, a militant bastion near the Afghan border where the Pakistani military launched an offensive late last year, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said.
"Today we received a formal request from them in which they have given the details of the charges according to which Shahzad has been visiting South Waziristan and meeting Qari Hussain and Hakimullah Mehsud," Rehman told reporters, referring to two Pakistani Taliban commanders.
"But it all needs confirmation."
The Pakistani Taliban last Sunday claimed responsibility for the attempted car bomb attack the previous day, but a spokesman for the militants on Thursday denied links with Shahzad.
Mehsud is the head of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or Taliban Movement of Pakistan, while Hussain is referred to as the mentor of the Pakistani Taliban suicide bombers.
If confirmed that the Taliban in Pakistan sponsored the attempted bombing in New York, it would be the group's first involvement in an attack on U.S. soil.
That would also put Pakistan under renewed U.S. pressure to intensify its crackdown on the militants.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in comments released by the U.S. CBS network on Friday, said U.S. ally Pakistan had been cooperating on the investigation.
But she also said the United States had warned Pakistan of "severe consequences" if a successful attack in America was traced back to Pakistan.
Mehsud was widely believed to have been killed in a missile strike by a pilotless CIA drone aircraft in January but he appeared in a video posted on the internet last week in which he threatened revenge suicide strikes in U.S. cities.
Hussain also appeared in a separate tape posted on the same day taking responsibility for the attack in the United States "with pride and valor," apparently referring to the Times Square incident.
The New York police at the time said there was no evidence to support Taliban claim.
Malik said on Thursday he thought it unlikely that Shahzad acted alone.
Pakistani security officials say Shahzad, who is suspected of driving an explosives-laden SUV into Times Square, was close to Jaish-e-Mohammad, a group fighting Indian forces in the disputed Kashmir region.
The group also has ties to al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban.
Pakistani security agencies have arrested at least one Jaish activist, Mohammad Rehan, as he left a mosque linked to the group in the southern city of Karachi on Tuesday.
Other associates, including Shahzad's father-in-law, have also been detained in Karachi, according to media reports.
The United States has asked to interview Shahzad's parents, the Washington Post reported on Thursday.
But Malik ruled that out.
"The government of Pakistan will not allow any outside investigators to investigate our people," he said.
(Reporting by Zeeshan Haider; Editing by Robert Birsel and Sugita Katyal)
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