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The Taliban in My Inbox

Eight hours after the failed bombing, an email arrived claiming ‘responsibility of recent Attack on Times Square Newyork USA.’

May 17, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 33 • By BILL ROGGIO
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The Taliban member had sent me the email even as he was uploading the files. His message read: “this last file is still in process, youtube will take some minutes to finish it.” I received the email quickly enough to notice that the last file, which was the longer 8:42 video of Hakeemullah, was not yet available.

The fact that this was a video of Hakeemullah was news. Most students of the Taliban thought he was dead. Hakeemullah had been the target of a Predator strike in North Waziristan on January 14, and top Pakistani and U.S. officials had written him off as dead. I’ve been one of the few voices disputing that claim, noting the major inconsistencies in the reports of Hakeemullah’s death. (He was reported dead on three separate occasions after the January 14 strike, and the accounts all conflict.)

So, here was audio and video of Hakeemullah proving he was alive (he mentions dates in April and specific events that had occurred, including reports of his death). And not only that, he is threatening further attacks just 18 hours after his top lieutenant took credit for the Times Square bombing attempt.

Since Hakeemullah mentions specific dates and events, I was confident about the authenticity of the tapes. My sources confirmed that the tapes were legit, and I again published the news.

The events of the day could best be described as surreal. After the first email arrived and throughout the day, I kept asking myself: Why did they contact me to break the news? What risks am I running by publicizing the tapes? What exactly did this Taliban propagandist “appreciate” about the Long War Journal? And there was, of course, a feeling of disgust in communicating with the likes of the Taliban and being a chosen recipient of their propaganda.

Nonetheless while one hates in any way publicizing the voice of the Taliban, there is value in having the world see exactly what they are about. Propaganda cuts both ways. While they want to thump their chest, instill fear among their enemies, and recruit, the tapes also serve to remind us that we are engaged with a real enemy, an enemy that wants to kill us and revels in it. An enemy, moreover, trying to strike us on our own soil. Such points outweigh any Taliban gain in publicizing the tapes.

In the days following, government officials attempted to deflect speculation that the attack could have been launched by the Taliban. Within hours of the attack, officials dismissed the possibility that al Qaeda or an allied Islamist terror group might have been involved, saying instead that the attack was likely carried out by domestic terrorists.

The most egregious statement was made by New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who said he thought that domestic political extremists were involved. “If I had to guess 25 cents, this would be exactly that, somebody who’s homegrown, maybe a mentally deranged person or someone with a political agenda that doesn’t like the health care bill or something, it could be anything,” Bloomberg told CBS News.

While it would have been perfectly acceptable for officials to have said in those early days that it was too soon to draw conclusions as to who carried out the attack, they chose the other route. They dismissed the possibility that a foreign terrorist group might be involved and promoted the theory that phantom domestic actors were to blame. 

This rush to judgment was irresponsible. And ultimately it was wrong. Fifty-three hours after the failed car bombing in Times Square, a Pakistani-American named Faisal Shahzad was arrested in the act of fleeing the country. When questioned by the FBI, he admitted to having trained in a camp in Waziristan, the base of Hakeemullah Mehsud and the Pakistani Taliban. Shahzad is said to have been introduced to the Taliban by a friend with close links to the Jaish-e-Mohammed (“Army of Muhammad”), an al Qaeda-linked terrorist organization. Shahzad’s family is also said to have had close ties to slain Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud.

What’s more the tapes themselves demand exploration—including an explanation of the extraordinary timing of their release.

First, as mentioned, the website on which the Qari Hussain tape appeared and referred to the Times Square attack was created the day prior to the attack. And the tape was itself uploaded on April 30. This is either a staggering coincidence, or, as my sources believe, the Taliban set up the website and uploaded the video as part of the preparations for the attack. 

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