By Barry Newhouse
31 March 2009
Pakistani officials said Monday's deadly assault on a police training center outside Lahore was planned by a top Pakistani Taliban commander who is now threatening attacks inside the United States. The Taliban commander has claimed responsibility for the most recent attack in Pakistan and other recent suicide bombings.
Pakistani officials were quick to name Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud as a prime suspect in the assault that killed eight police cadets and wounded nearly 100 others at the Manawan police training center Monday.
Security forces captured one of the gunmen, who they said was an Afghan from eastern Paktika province. The chief of the Interior Ministry, Rehman Malik, said the captured gunman gave authorities details of the plot.
Malik said the planning of the attack was done under Baitullah Mehsud in the South Waziristan region and all of those involved traveled to Lahore from South Waziristan some 15 days ago.
In a series of phone interviews with news organizations, including VOA, Baitullah Mehsud claimed responsibility for the attack. Reporters said they recognized Mehsud's voice from previous interviews.
A spokesman for a different, and little known group, the Fedayeen al-Islam, also took responsibility for the attack in calls to reporters. Few details are known about that group or its affiliations.
Mehsud said Monday's assault, as well as a suicide bombing on an Islamabad police station last week and a previous bombing in the western town Bannu, were in retaliation for U.S. drone strikes in the tribal regions.
He said the main reason for these attacks is that the drone strikes kill innocent people, particularly women and children. He said more attacks are planned.
In interviews with other news organizations, the militant leader said his group was making no demands on the Pakistani government or the United States. He said militants only want revenge.
U.S. commanders have said the drone strikes against suspected militant targets are an effective strategy to kill top Taliban and al Qaida leaders. The strikes, which often result in civilian casualties, are unpopular in Pakistan, and local officials often publicly denounce them as counterproductive.
Earlier this month, the U.S. government offered up to $5 million for information leading to the location or capture of Mehsud, who leads the largest Pakistani Taliban faction. The United States considers Mehsud a key al Qaida facilitator in Pakistan's tribal areas who has conducted cross-border attacks against U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
He is also suspected in the 2008 bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, as well as the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
Mehsud dismissed the U.S. bounty, saying his capture would make him a martyr. He also threatened to carry out attacks abroad.
He said we will take revenge from Americans, not within Pakistan, but in Washington and the White House.
In Washington, U.S. State Department Spokesman Gordon Duguid said he was unaware of Mehsud's threat. Duguid expressed condolences to families of victims of the police center attack and said the forces responsible are the enemies of peaceful and democratic governments in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Monday's assault is the second carried out this month in Lahore. Gunmen also attacked Sri Lanka's cricket team on a bus in the downtown area several weeks ago. Officials have worried the violence, which is uncommon in the eastern Pakistan city, is an indication that militant attacks previously confined to the country's northwest, are now threatening the entire country.