Early Sunday morning, May 2, I awoke and followed my usual routine: Grabbed a cup of coffee, logged onto my computer, scanned the news for major developments in the war, and checked my email. It was no ordinary morning, though, as the evening before someone had attempted to set off a car bomb in Times Square in New York City.
Normally I have a couple of dozen messages in my inbox: notes from readers, an occasional tip or link to a news story, and some spam. But something I found sitting in my inbox that morning made me catch my breath: an email from someone claiming to be a representative of the Pakistani Taliban, who was notifying me that one of their top leaders had released a tape claiming responsibility for the attempt to murder U.S. citizens in Times Square.
The email had been sent at 2:37 a.m., just eight hours after the bomb was discovered. The emailer’s handle was Taliban News and the subject line read: “Qari Hussain Mehsud from Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan accepts the responsibility of recent Attack on Times Square Newyork USA.”
“You’re the first one to know” the cryptic email stated.
The email included a link to a 1:21-length video posted on a YouTube site called the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan News Channel. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (“the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan”) is an al Qaeda-linked group waging war against the Pakistani state and against NATO forces in Afghanistan.
“We Tehreek-e-Taliban with all the Pride and Bravery, TAKE full responsibility for the RECENT ATTACK IN THE USA,” Qari Hussain states at the beginning of the tape, which was accompanied by English subtitles.
“This attack is a revenge for the great & valuable martyred leaders of mujahideen,” he goes on, while images of recently slain Taliban and al Qaeda leaders appear. He listed Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, who was killed in a Predator strike in August 2009 and Abu Omar al Baghdadi, the leader of al Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq who was killed by Iraqi forces in mid-April of this year. An image of Abu Ayyub al Masri, Al Qaeda in Iraq’s leader, who was killed with Baghdadi in April, also flashed on the screen.
In the tape, Qari Hussain threatens further attacks in the United States. He warns U.S. allies “to oppose the evil US policies” and apologize for actions in the Middle East and South Asia, or “otherwise be prepared for the worst ever destruction and devastation in their regions.”
My first thought was that it was a hoax. Yet it certainly looked authentic. The tape was produced by Umar Studio, the propaganda arm of the Pakistani Taliban. There were no reports of the Taliban claiming credit for the failed attack anywhere in the news, and so I immediately contacted law enforcement authorities and provided the emails. But I also contacted sources in an attempt to confirm the video and was told it was authentic—the speaker was indeed Qari Hussain Mehsud, the Taliban’s master trainer of child suicide bombers.
During the 12 hours following the failed bombing, officials had been downplaying or denying the possibility of foreign links and speculating that the plot had been carried out by a domestic group or a deranged individual. At 10:24 a.m. eastern time, an article about the email, accompanied by the embedded video, was up at my website, the Long War Journal.
Within two hours, YouTube had pulled the video down and shuttered the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan News Channel, presumably at the request of the U.S. government.
At 8:33 p.m., that night, I received another email, this one from a person identifying himself as a Taliban representative. He said he had two tapes of Hakeemullah Mehsud that proved he was alive and showed him threatening further attacks in the United States.
The email address was different from the previous one; the handle this time was Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. The subject header read: “Hakeemullah Mehsud is Alive and Healthy and Delivering news about Attacks on USA.” Yet it was clear that the same person was emailing me, as he referred to the prior email in the text: “you’re again the first one to see it. share it with as many as you can. I appreciate your site, only few things are confusing to you, rest is clear.”
The email contained links to video and audio recordings of Hakeemullah, the overall leader of the Pakistani Taliban. They were posted to a YouTube site called TehreekeTaliban. The email also contained a link to the same video of Qari Hussain that had been removed by YouTube earlier in the day and was now re-posted—it has since been removed again.