Authorities say Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad not only admitted to driving an SUV with a homemade bomb into Times Square last Saturday; he also allegedly told investigators that he received bomb-making training in Pakistan.
That is the part of the story that investigators are zeroing in on now. Details have been slow to emerge because even with Shahzad's alleged admission, there is an archipelago of training facilities in the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan that are always moving and hard to find.
The traditional camps with firing ranges and monkey bars in the desert no longer exist; they had become easy targets for aerial bombing. The camps are now makeshift and mobile. What's more, because these operations are under attack by U.S. and Pakistani forces, the groups that are training would-be jihadis are cooperating with one another like never before.
Officials close to the case tell NPR that Shahzad took what U.K. terrorism authorities have called the "Kashmir escalator." It is a term of art used to describe how Pakistanis in the U.K., who seem happy in the West, end up training for jihad. Essentially, the first step is that someone gets radicalized at home — by an extremist cleric or the Internet. They then use their family connections to gain entry into one of the extremist groups in Pakistan, and by recommendation they are taken and accepted into these training programs.
The Kashmir escalator moniker comes from the fact that initially many people who go to Pakistan for this kind of paramilitary training do so to fight in Kashmir, the region that is claimed by both Pakistan and India. Many of them get diverted from their quest and end up in Afghanistan or Iraq or perhaps planning an attack on the West.
Shahzad described himself as a Pakistani of Kashmiri descent. With that lineage, he could have known people -– cousins, friends or friends of friends — who belonged to several militant groups in Pakistan that have traditionally focused on the fight in Kashmir. Two of those groups are Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba, or LeT.
Militant Groups Working Together
LeT probably came to most people's attention after it was revealed that it was behind the deadly attack on Mumbai, India, in 2008, in which 10 gunmen took over multiple locations in the city and went on a several-day grenade, fire and shooting spree; 168 people were killed.
Shahzad allegedly told authorities that he linked up with someone in Pakistan with connections to Jaish-e-Mohammed who agreed to take the young American to the region between Pakistan and Afghanistan to a training facility. That facility, it appears, was linked to LeT.
The two groups have a particularly close relationship. They share a sense of mission and often share and trade recruits, and meld their training. LeT is considered to have the best bomb trainers, and Shahzad appears to have learned about explosives there. But officials tell NPR that because of the nature of these training facilities — always moving, sharing instructors, run by different organizations — it is difficult to pinpoint exactly where or with whom Shahzad trained. Traditionally, however, LeT has played a training role and then ships its graduates to other groups. Officials say it prefers to remain in the background.
Authorities are still working out what happened next. But it appears that after getting some sort of explosives instruction, Shahzad may have been passed to a group that initially took credit for the Times Square attack when it happened: the Pakistani Taliban.
Authorities aren't jumping to that conclusion. As a general matter, the Pakistani Taliban hasn't launched international attacks. So if it actually sent Shahzad to the U.S. to stage an attack, that would be a big change. But his connection to the group may have been much looser than that. He apparently met with members of the group, but the nature of that meeting is unclear. Investigators are trying to determine whether Shahzad went to Pakistan with this intention to attack the U.S. or whether once he arrived there he was recruited and dispatched to attack here.
That's why authorities are still talking to Shahzad. And, so far, he seems amenable. On Wednesday, he waived his right to a speedy arraignment, which means he is happy to keep talking to investigators before he is formally arraigned. Officials say that is a hopeful sign for his continued cooperation.