- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 19, 2010

ISLAMABAD | Pakistan’s Taliban militia is vowing to launch terrorist attacks in the United States and Europe, but they lack the capability to conduct global attacks on their own, according to terrorism specialists.

But close links between homegrown terrorists in Western countries and Muslim insurgents in Pakistan is viewed as a potential threat to the security of America and Europe.

Qari Hussain Mehsud, a key leader of Pakistan Taliban or Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), said recently, “We will launch attacks in America and Europe very soon.”

Mr. Mehsud is considered the operational leader behind TTP terrorism and militancy in Pakistan and is reverently called Ustad-e-Fidayeen, or master-trainer of suicide attackers within militant ranks. He made the threat to stage terrorist attacks in the West in a brief interview with Reuters.

Mr. Mehsud’s position and his previous low profile in the news media have bolstered fears that he will follow through with the threats to launch attacks against the American homeland and European continent.

But concerned Pakistani officials, experts and observers who track Pakistan Taliban groups said the TTP does not have the ability or potential to conduct terrorist strikes in the Western countries because it lacks people and resources.

“U.S. CIA-operated drones have taken a heavy toll on Pakistani Taliban while military operations in the biggest hub of TTP - South Waziristan - by Pakistani forces has largely dismantled the TTP command-and-control structure,” Ashraf Ali, the leading Pakistani specialist on the Taliban told The Washington Times.

“Moreover, the differences within the TTP between the groups led by Qari Hussain Mehsud, Hakimullah Mehsud and Shaheen Mehsud on the one hand with the group led by TTP deputy commander Waliur Rahman has affected the strength of TTP,” he said.

“At the moment, the number of active fighters the TTP is having is merely 2,000 to 2,500 at the most,” he added. “In such a situation when the TTP is almost on the run, making such a statement is foolish and childish.”

But analysts at the same time also fear the close links al Qaeda, with its global terrorist network, has with the Pakistan Taliban, which have led to blurring of boundaries between the two groups, raise fears that the former will extend its terrorist reach from the Afghanistan-Pakistan region to the United States and Europe.

Following renewed large-scale terrorist attacks by TTP fighters in Pakistan in recent weeks that have claimed hundreds of lives, Pakistan Home Minister Rahman Malik said “there is no difference between al Qaeda, TTP or Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.”

The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is an extremist, anti-Shiite, Sunni organization now forming as a central part of TTP.

“However, you can say that Al Qaeda does have the capacity to stage terrorist attacks in U.S. and Europe, as it has worldwide cells and networks. And if it provides the platform, then TTP-trained militants could stage attacks inside the U.S. and Europe. But these terrorist could not necessarily be members of TTP from Pakistan,” said Mr. Ali, president of the Islamabad-based FATA Research Center.

Al Qaeda’s top leadership and strategists have been hosted and provided sanctuaries by Pakistani Taliban groups in Pakistan tribal lands or Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) since the ouster of al Qaeda from Taliban-ruled Afghanistan in 2001.

Al Qaeda had its largest base in Taliban-governed Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 and was forced to flee Afghanistan toward Pakistan after the ouster of the regime by U.S. and NATO forces, working with northern Afghan tribes in late 2001.

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