State Department considers adding Pakistani Taliban to terrorism blacklist

WASHINGTON (AP) — The government may add the Pakistani Taliban to a terrorism blacklist that would impose travel and financial sanctions on members of the group, which officials believe is linked to the failed Times Square car bombing.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Tuesday the U.S. already was considering designating Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, a "foreign terrorist organization" before the May 1 incident in New York, but the process has accelerated since the failed attack.

Crowley said the speeded-up review of the group's status was unrelated to Tuesday's call from lawmakers for the department to place the Pakistani Taliban on the list.

"It has come into sharp relief in light of the Times Square bombing and this is something that we are actively considering," Crowley told reporters.

Adding or removing a group from the list is a "lengthy, deliberative process" that must follow strict legal guidelines, Crowley said.

He added that the interrogation of the man accused in the New York incident, Faisal Shahzad, had provided additional information about the Pakistani Taliban and its potential threat to the United States.

"We've been focused on the Pakistani Taliban for some time, but obviously we are gleaning information in this investigation based on the information that the suspect is providing us," he said.

U.S. officials have said the Pakistani Taliban provided financing and training to Shahzad, who spent five months in Pakistan prior to the attack.

Although the group has been active since roughly 2001, it has not been included on the terrorism list because officials had not determined it met the criteria.

Crowley rejected suggestions that the group's absence from the list implied the U.S. had been lax in dealing with it. He noted that some of its leaders had been reported killed in covert U.S. airborne drone strikes.

"We have been focused on this group for some time," he said. "You will understand that it has gone through some leadership changes that we have helped them with. So the idea that we have not been focused on this group as part of our broader struggle against political extremism is not true."

Crowley declined to comment further on the matter.

Earlier Tuesday, at least five senators, including all four from New York and New Jersey, sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton asking that the group be added to the list. The move would freeze assets the group has in U.S. jurisdictions, make it a crime for Americans to offer it material support and prohibit its members from traveling to the U.S.

"The Pakistani Taliban is a murderous organization dedicated to killing civilians, harming U.S. interests in the region, and has even taken credit for terrorist acts committed on U.S. soil," the senators wrote, arguing that the group meets the legal criteria for the designation.

"Designating the Pakistani Taliban as a foreign terrorist organization would be an effective means of curtailing support for their terrorist activities and pressuring other groups to withdraw their logistical, financial and political support for this terrorist organization," they said.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who along with Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Robert Menendez, D-N.J., Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., and Kay Hagan, D-N.C., signed the letter, said he was pleased with the State Department's reaction.

"The State Department is doing the right thing in considering this request, and we hope they will make a decision quickly," Schumer said. "By the criteria set by law, the Pakistani Taliban belongs on the terrorist group list."

There are currently 45 groups on the blacklist, including al-Qaida, its affiliates and numerous organizations in the Middle East.