Shahzad Not Taliban Trained After All?

faisal-shahzadFaisal Shahzad apparently didn’t train with the Pakistani Taliban, Jonathan Landay and John Walcott report for McClatchy Newspapers.

No credible evidence has been found so far that the Pakistani-American man accused in the Times Square bombing plot received any serious terrorist training from the Pakistani Taliban or another radical Islamic group, six U.S. officials said Thursday.

“There is nothing that confirms that any groups have been found involved in this for certain,” one U.S. official told McClatchy. “It’s a lot of speculation at this point.”

Faisal Shahzad may have, at the most, had “incidental contact” with a terrorist organization, and he may have been encouraged to act, said one of the officials, who declined to elaborate further.

One supposes the anonymous leakers could be spreading misinformation to get reporters off the trail.  Or just wrong.

But I’m strongly inclined to believe this report.  After all, every bit of evidence we have is that plot was extremely amateurish and that Shahzad made errors that someone with any training at all — say, carefully watching an episode of “24” — would have avoided.

UPDATE:  Commenters point me to two related articles that shed additional light on this matter.

Nick Schifrin for ABC:

American officials’ growing certainty that failed Times Square bomber received regular guidance from the Pakistani Taliban and contacted other terrorist groups will put pressure on Pakistan to expand offensives against terror groups. The apparent ease with which Faisal Shahzad came into contact with multiple terrorist organizations has prompted Pakistani intelligence officials to broaden their investigation beyond the Taliban and question a handful of members of a sectarian terrorist group in the southern port city of Karachi.

[…]

Shahzad’s connection to the Taliban was “regular” and “substantial,” says a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Shahzad linked up with the Pakistani Taliban online, according to separate law enforcement and intelligence officials close to the investigation, making him their first known Western recruit.

But Pakistani officials suspect the Taliban kept Shahzad at arms length out of fear he was an American agent. That is reinforced, they say, by the crudeness of the bomb and what one senior Pakistani government official called a “comedy of errors” in how he executed his plot. “These groups might give disgruntled young people from America some guidance, but they don’t expose them to first-rate trainers, nor will they take them into their sanctuary,” the senior Pakistani government official said. “What these groups fear is that they’re CIA.”

NAF’s Steve Coll (writing May 4):

Terrorists are adaptive, self-correcting, and cunning—except when they aren’t. For all of his alleged error-making as an individual, however, Shahzad’s case may actually reflect on how Pakistan-based jihadi groups have learned to protect themselves.

Last week, before the Times Square incident, I was talking with a former U.S. intelligence officer who worked extensively on jihadi cases during several overseas tours. He said that when a singleton of Shahzad’s profile—especially a U.S. citizen—turns up in a place like Peshawar, local jihadi groups are much more likely to assess him as a probable U.S. spy than as a genuine volunteer. At best, the jihadi groups might conclude that a particular U.S.-originated individual’s case is uncertain. They might then encourage the person to go home and carry out an attack—without giving him any training or access to higher-up specialists that might compromise their local operations. They would see such a U.S.-based volunteer as a “freebie,” the former officer said—if he returns home to attack, great, but if he merely goes off to report back to his C.I.A. case officer, no harm done.

Which all makes sense, really.   If this conjecture is correct, Shahzad may well have considered himself to be a Taliban agent even if they didn’t take him very seriously.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Flit says:

    Sigh. All this coverage is so frustrating and often wrong based on “category errors.” Yes, he was affiliated with and influenced by the Taliban (and AQ), but never (well) trained.

    This link from ABC bridges the gap;

    http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/International/times-square-bomber-contacts-taliban-puts-pressure-pakistan/story?id=10587014

    But Pakistani officials suspect the Taliban kept Shahzad at arms length out of fear he was an American agent. That is reinforced, they say, by the crudeness of the bomb and what one senior Pakistani government official called a “comedy of errors” in how he executed his plot.

    “These groups might give disgruntled young people from America some guidance, but they don’t expose them to first-rate trainers, nor will they take them into their sanctuary,” the senior Pakistani government official said. “What these groups fear is that they’re CIA.”

  2. steve says:

    Coll agrees with the above.

    http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/stevecoll/2010/05/the-case-of-faisal-shahzad.html

    Last week, before the Times Square incident, I was talking with a former U.S. intelligence officer who worked extensively on jihadi cases during several overseas tours. He said that when a singleton of Shahzad’s profile—especially a U.S. citizen—turns up in a place like Peshawar, local jihadi groups are much more likely to assess him as a probable U.S. spy than as a genuine volunteer. At best, the jihadi groups might conclude that a particular U.S.-originated individual’s case is uncertain. They might then encourage the person to go home and carry out an attack—without giving him any training or access to higher-up specialists that might compromise their local operations. They would see such a U.S.-based volunteer as a “freebie,” the former officer said—if he returns home to attack, great, but if he merely goes off to report back to his C.I.A. case officer, no harm done.

    Read more: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/stevecoll/2010/05/the-case-of-faisal-shahzad.html#ixzz0nKq7zarC

    Steve