KARACHI/BEIJING (Reuters) – Pakistan said on Thursday it was unlikely a Pakistani-American arrested over a failed plot to bomb New York's Times Square had acted alone.
Investigations in Pakistan had uncovered possible links between the suspect, Faisal Shahzad, 30, the Pakistani Taliban and a Kashmiri Islamist group, officials and news reports said.
"According to the available information he says it was his individual act," Interior Minister Rehman Malik told Reuters in an interview in Beijing. "I would not tend to believe that."
The Pakistani Taliban Sunday claimed responsibility for Saturday's attempted car bomb attack, but New York police said they had no evidence to support the claim. Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq Thursday denied links with Shahzad.
"We have nothing to do with him," Tariq told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location. "We never imparted any training to him."
Pakistani security officials said that 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 territory of Kashmir and which also has ties to al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban.
"The people who have been picked up do have links to Jaish and have also been in touch with Shahzad during his visits here," a Pakistani security official in Karachi told Reuters.
The official was referring to Mohammad Rehan, a friend of Shahzad, who was detained Tuesday after leaving the Bat'ha Mosque in Karachi. Other associates, including Shahzad's father-in-law, have also been detained in Karachi, according to CNN.
The mosque is said to have links to Jaish and neighbors tell of visits by its leaders.
U.S. investigators are also taking a "hard look" at possible ties between Shahzad and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Taliban Movement of Pakistan, a U.S. official said Wednesday.
"It is a known fact that the mosque (in Karachi) has been a recruiting ground for Jaish and many people have been sent to the tribal areas (home to the TTP) for training," a second Pakistani security official told Reuters.
The official said several men recruited through the mosque had fought against the military during recent offensives against the TTP.
"It may not be a surprise if the people associated with the mosque, or those who come here for recruitment, are linked with the TTP," he said.
The U.S. official agreed. "TTP is entirely plausible, but we're not ruling out other groups," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
If confirmed that the Taliban in Pakistan sponsored the attempted bombing in New York, it would be the group's first attack on U.S. soil.
PARENTS' WHEREABOUTS UNKNOWN
The United States had asked Pakistan for help in investigating the failed bomb plot, the Washington Post reported Thursday, and is preparing a detailed request for urgent and specific assistance to be presented by the end of the week.
Pakistan was ready to give them "every help, full support" to bring the culprits to justice, Malik said.
The United States has also asked to interview Shahzad's parents, the Post reported, quoting a Pakistani official who said their whereabouts are still unknown.
Shahzad was arrested Monday night after he was removed from an Emirates plane at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport that was about to depart for Dubai. He had been on his way back to Pakistan.
Shahzad, who was born in Pakistan and became a U.S. citizen last year, has been charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and trying to kill and maim people within the United States as well as other counts.
U.S. prosecutors said Shahzad, the son of a retired Pakistani air vice-marshal, had admitted receiving bomb-making training in a Taliban and al Qaeda stronghold in Pakistan. A law enforcement source said investigators believed the Pakistani Taliban financed that training.
Shahzad waived his right to an initial court appearance within 48 hours of his arrest and other U.S. constitutional rights, a U.S. official and sources said. He faces life in prison if convicted of the charges against him, unless he negotiates a lesser sentence in exchange for cooperation.