Justice Department charges the leader of Pakistan's Taliban with conspiracy in CIA bombing
WASHINGTON – U.S. officials launched a broad legal offensive against Pakistan's Taliban on Wednesday, placing the group on its international terrorism blacklist and charging its leader with planning last year's suicide bombing in Afghanistan that killed seven CIA employees.
The Pakistani group, known as the Tehrik-e-Taliban or TTP, was officially designated a "foreign terrorist organization," a classification that imposes additional State and Treasury department sanctions. The Pakistani Taliban threatens U.S. national security, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a note published in the Federal Register.
The Justice Department then unsealed charges against the self-proclaimed emir of the Pakistani Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud. He is accused of planning the December 2009 attack in which a suicide bomber detonated explosives at a CIA base in Khost, Afghanistan, killing a Jordanian intelligence officer and the CIA employees.
Conviction on the two conspiracy charges, which were entered on Aug. 20, would likely mean life in prison.
"The various actions taken today against the TTP support the U.S. effort to degrade the capabilities of this dangerous group," State Department counterterrorism coordinator Daniel Benjamin said. "We are determined to eliminate TTP's ability to execute violent attacks, and to disrupt, dismantle and defeat their networks."
In addition to the CIA bombing, Pakistan's Taliban has been blamed for the failed May 1 car bombing in New York's Times Square. Pakistan's government accuses the group of being behind the 2007 assassination of Pakistani politician Benazir Bhutto and the April 2010 suicide bombing against the U.S. consulate in Peshawar that killed six Pakistanis.
"These charges are part of a multipronged U.S. government effort to disrupt and dismantle Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan," Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said. "It is our intention to hold Mehsud accountable for his actions and we will work with our partners in the intelligence community, the military and law enforcement, as well as our counterparts overseas, to achieve that objective."
The State Department is offering a $5 million bounty for Mehsud and another top Taliban leader, Wali Ur Rehman, and the Treasury Department has placed financial and travel sanctions on Mehsud and others identified with the group.
"America must take all steps necessary to contain and eliminate Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan," said Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand, D-N.Y.
The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or Pakistani Taliban Movement, is a loose federation of tribal and regional factions initially led by Baitullah Mehsud. It maintains strongholds along the northwestern tribal belt, where the militants are also believed to be providing havens for senior al-Qaida leaders, including Osama bin Laden.
Baitullah Mehsud was killed in an Aug. 5, 2009, CIA missile strike in northwestern Pakistan. He was replaced by his military chief, Hakimullah Mehsud.
Earlier this year, U.S. and Pakistani officials believed that Hakimullah Mehsud had been killed in a January missile strike. In April, however, intelligence officials determined that he was alive, and soon afterward he appeared in two new videos released by the Pakistani Taliban.
He is believed to be hiding along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
The missile strike that was believed to have killed Mehsud took place about 10 days after the release of a video showing the militant leader seated next to Jordanian doctor Humam Khalil al-Balawi, who carried out the Dec. 30 suicide attack against the CIA base at Camp Chapman in eastern Afghanistan.
The charging documents say al-Balawi, wearing traditional Afghani clothing and carrying a cane, was approached by base security after he got out of his car. The bomber, a Jordanian doctor, then reached under his clothes and ignited the weapon, which later swabbing show included the explosives RDX and PETN.
Investigators found the bomber's legs after the suicide attack and confirmed his identity through DNA matches with his relatives. They also found parts of the cane.
Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.