WASHINGTON — Saying they obtained new evidence, senior White House officials said Sunday that the Pakistani Taliban were behind the failed Times Square bombing.
The attempt marks the first time the group has been able to launch an attack on U.S. soil. And while U.S. officials have downplayed the threat — citing the bomb’s lack of sophistication — the incident in Times Square and Christmas Day airline bomber indicate growing strength by overseas terrorist groups linked to al-Qaida even as the CIA says their operations are seriously degraded.
The finding also raises new questions about the U.S. relationship with Pakistan, which is widely known to have al-Qaida and other terrorist groups operating within its borders.
Concerning the Pakistani Taliban, Attorney General Eric Holder said: “We know that they helped facilitate it; we know that they helped direct it. And I suspect that we are going to come up with evidence which shows that they helped to finance it. They were intimately involved in this plot.”
John Brennan, the president’s homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, made similar remarks, linking the bomber to the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP.
Neither official said what the new evidence was.
Faisal Shahzad, a U.S. citizen of Pakistani descent, is believed to have spent five months in Pakistan before returning to the United States in February and preparing his attack.
Shahzad has told investigators that he trained in the lawless tribal areas of Waziristan, where both al-Qaida and the Pakistani Taliban operate. He was arrested aboard an Emirates Airlines jet in New York just minutes before it was scheduled to take off for Dubai.
After the attack, U.S. officials said they were exploring potential links to terrorist groups overseas but said it was likely that Shahzad was acting alone and that it was an isolated incident.
Last week, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, told NBC News that “at this point I have no information that it’s anything other than a one-off.” Gen. David Petraeus told The Associated Press that Shahzad apparently operated as a “lone wolf.”
Brennan on Sunday rejected suggestions that that the attempted bombing shows that terrorist groups overseas were gaining strength.
“They now are relegated to trying to do these unsophisticated attacks, showing that they have inept capabilities in training,” he said.