Zulfiqar Ali & Laura King / Los Angeles Times – 2009-04-02 23:02:12
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (April 1, 2009) — Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of Pakistan’s Taliban movement, threatened Tuesday to launch attacks inside the United States in retaliation for US missile strikes aimed at militant leaders sheltering in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
In an unusual step, the normally reclusive Mehsud made a round of calls to media representatives claiming responsibility for a commando-style strike on a police training school in the eastern city of Lahore a day earlier. In those calls, he also threatened to widen his campaign of attacks.
US and Pakistani intelligence officials have said that Mehsud and his organization, thought to have links to al Qaeda, are under increasing pressure as a result of American missile strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas, which have escalated over the past six months. Several recent raids have taken place in Mehsud’s stronghold, in South Waziristan, and have killed some of his close associates.
Mehsud, who has a $5 million US bounty on his head, is blamed by the Pakistani government for dozens of suicide bombings and other attacks inside the country, including the December 2007 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. He has denied responsibility for Bhutto’s killing.
Although Mehsud’s campaign of violence is aimed primarily at the Pakistani government, some fighters loyal to him have crossed over into Afghanistan for attacks against Western troops battling an insurgency there. But analysts say there has been no indication that he has the ability to extend his reach outside the region, although he has threatened such strikes.
“I think these comments are just meant for a domestic audience; I don’t think he has the institutional or organizational skills for an attack in the United States or Europe,” said Hassan Abbas, a former Pakistani police official in Pakistan’s restive northwest, who is now a fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. “Conducting attacks inside Pakistan — that’s a different thing altogether.”
In his calls to Pakistani journalists primarily based in the tribal areas, Mehsud demanded an end to the missile strikes, which are generally carried out by unmanned aerial drones. He also denounced Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari’s government, which he accused of complicity in the drone attacks.
“Our mission is to continue jihad in Afghanistan and Pakistan and to avenge drone attacks, even inside America,” he told the Los Angeles Times. Asked about the American bounty, he replied: “Martyrdom is our aim, and we would be very happy if we could achieve it.”
In a separate call to the Associated Press, Mehsud was quoted as threatening to strike the White House. “Soon we will launch an attack in Washington that will amaze everyone in the world,” he said.
© 2009 Hearst Communications Inc.
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