WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is convinced that a Pakistani Taliban group closely allied with al Qaeda was behind the attempted bombing in New York’s Times Square, administration officials said on Sunday.
Attorney General Eric Holder said Islamabad was cooperating in the ongoing investigation of the May 1 incident and the Obama administration will keep the pressure on for their continued help.
“We’ve now developed evidence that show the Pakistani Taliban was behind the attack,” he said in an interview on ABC television’s “This Week.”
“We know that they helped facilitate it. We know that they probably helped finance it. And that he was working at their direction,” he said, referring to Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistan-born naturalized American who is now under arrest.
Shahzad, 30, was arrested last Monday, two days after authorities say he parked a crude car bomb in New York’s busy Times Square. Authorities say he has been cooperating in the investigation.
Appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union,” President Barack Obama’s top counterterrorism officer, John Brennan, said “It is looking like the TTP is responsible for this attempt.”
This would be the first time the group known as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (Taliban Movement of Pakistan) would have been implicated in an attack on U.S. soil, according to U.S. intelligence officials.
The TTP was formed in South Waziristan and is the Pakistani Taliban group most influenced by al Qaeda. Its leader, Baitullah Mehsud, was killed in August 2009 by a U.S. drone strike. The TTP has pledged to carry out attacks in the United States and elsewhere.
Brennan called it a “very serious threat from a very determined enemy.”
Holder said the Obama administration was satisfied for now with the level of cooperation it was getting from Pakistani authorities in the investigation of the attempted bombing. He added that there was nothing to suggest the Pakistani government was aware of the plot.
“They’ve been cooperative with us, and I think we have been satisfied with the work that they have done,” Holder said, adding that the United States wants that to continue.
“To the extent that it does not, we will...take the appropriate steps,” he added. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned on Friday of “severe consequences” if a successful extremist attack was traced back to Pakistan.
Brennan added that Pakistan needs to keep pressure on militants, particularly in Waziristan and along the border with Afghanistan.
“There are a number of terrorist groups and militant organizations operating in Pakistan, and we need to make sure that there’s no support being given to them by the Pakistani government.”
Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Holder said it was unclear whether Shahzad will be tried in a civilian court or whether a trial will be necessary, raising the possibility that Shahzad might plead guilty.
“We have developed information that I think we can use in a civilian court,” Holder said. “It’s not even sure at this point whether or not there even has to be a trial.”
Holder said, in response to questions, that the administration will have to work with Congress to see whether modifications are needed in the protections given to suspects arrested for alleged terrorist acts.
Some lawmakers have suggested that people accused of terrorism should not have all the rights accorded to those charged with less serious crimes.
Holder said it was important the government have the flexibility it needs to counter acts of terrorism but that any changes have to meet constitutional requirements.
He added that the administration will suggest some changes to Congress that recognize the reality that terrorism is a rising risk for the United States.
“We want to work with Congress to come up with a way in which we make our public safety exception more flexible and again more consistent with the threat we face ... This is a proposal that we’re going to be making and that we want to work with Congress about,” Holder said.
Reporting by Glenn Somerville and Lucia Mutikani, additional reporting by Adam Entous; Editing by Jackie Frank