Key leader in Taliban threatens to hit US
Seeks to retaliate for missile strikes
By Zulfiqar Ali and Laura King, Los Angeles Times | April 1, 2009
PESHAWAR, Pakistan - Baitullah Mahsud, the leader of Pakistan's Taliban movement, threatened yesterday to launch attacks inside the United States in retaliation for missile strikes by American drones aimed at militant leaders sheltering in Pakistan's tribal areas.
In an unusual step, the normally reclusive Mahsud made a round of calls to media representatives claiming responsibility for a commando-style strike on a police training school near the eastern city of Lahore a day earlier. In those calls, he also threatened to widen his campaign of attacks.
"Our mission is to continue jihad in Afghanistan and Pakistan and to avenge drone attacks, even inside America," he told a representative of the Los Angeles Times. Asked about a $5 million American bounty on his head, he replied: "Martyrdom is our aim, and we would be very happy if we could achieve it."
US and Pakistani intelligence officials have said that Mahsud 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 Mahsud's stronghold, in South Waziristan, and have killed some of his close associates.
Mahsud 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 Mahsud'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.
In Washington, Pentagon officials said they could not determine how serious or imminent Mahsud's threats were. But they emphasized that they keep a close watch on the group - and treat it seriously.
In his calls to Pakistani journalists, Mahsud demanded an end to the missile strikes.
The journalists he spoke to were familiar with his voice and they said they were confident he was the caller.
In a call to the Associated Press, Mahsud 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.
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