On Saturday evening, a dark green Nissan Pathfinder filled with propane, gasoline, fireworks, and non-explosive fertilizer just off Times Square began smoking and was dismantled before it detonated, though the vehicle could have been "cut in half" in the explosion according to New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly (Times, FT, LAT, NYT, WSJ, Guardian). Police are seeking a 40-something balding man who was seen in surveillance and tourist video footage walking away from the scene (NYT, CNN).
In a one minute and eleven second video Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan commander Qari Hussain claimed the TTP was responsible for the attack, saying it was revenge for the deaths of militant leaders, including Baitullah Mehsud and two top al-Qaeda in Iraq figures, the imprisonment of Aafia Siddiqui, and drone strikes in Pakistan (AP, NYT, WSJ, Wash Post, WSJ). However, Kelly said there was no evidence of Taliban involvement, and the group has in the past claimed attacks it had nothing to do with. New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg also said the plot was not the work of "one of the recognized terrorist organizations" (BBC, AP).
Hakimullah Mehsud, the recently revived leader of the TTP, has appeared in two new videos, one supposedly dated April 4 and threatening attacks on American cities, and the second dated April 19 and featuring Mehsud’s voice dubbed over a Google Map showing explosions in three unidentified U.S. cities (AP, BBC, AFP, AJE, Wash Post, AP, NYT). The April 19 video states that from now on, U.S. cities will be the group’s main targets.
Drones, bombings, and kidnappings
A suspected U.S. drone fired three missiles at a moving vehicle in North Waziristan earlier this morning, the 34th reported strike this year, and Pakistan’s defense minister said military operations in that tribal agency — a stronghold for a mix of Taliban fighters, the Haqqani network, Uzbek groups, and al-Qaeda — are "probable" and that "consultations" are underway (AP, ET). The LA Times has a must-read about the mixed reaction in Pakistan to the drone strikes (LAT).
A suicide bombing in the main town of Pakistan’s Swat Valley and a grenade attack in Swat’s Kabal area left at least seven dead, including three militants, over the weekend (AJE, AP, Daily Times, AFP). Targeted killings have seen a resurgence in the valley lately, raising fears that the Taliban are returning after last year’s military offensive there (BBC).
Clashes between security forces and militants left as many as 22 dead in Orakzai over the weekend, and artillery and mortar fire killed 18 militants in Bajaur, an area the Pakistani military has twice declared cleared of militants, earlier today (AFP, AP, Reuters, ET, AP). CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus is in Pakistan meeting with Pakistan’s army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani today (AP).
The former Pakistani spy turned rights activist who was kidnapped and killed in North Waziristan by a previously unknown militant group called the Asian Tigers was buried on Sunday in Islamabad (Wash Post, ET). Analysts speculate that Khalid Khawaja, who was solidly pro-Taliban and anti-American, may have been killed by militants with differing loyalties who did not care about his past Taliban ties. The News reports that the Afghan ambassador-appointee to Pakistan who was kidnapped from Peshawar 18 months ago appeared in a video released over the weekend flanked by Taliban fighters who claimed they were involved in talks with the Afghan government about the ambassador’s release (The News, AFP). Kabul has asked Islamabad to "take urgent steps" to ensure Abdul Khaliq Farahi’s release (Pajhwok).
The verdict: guilty
The lone surviving gunman in the deadly November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai was found guilty in a special Indian court earlier today of all charges against him, including murder, waging war on India, and possessing explosives (BBC, NDTV, AP, AFP, AJE, NYT, CNN). Two Indians who were accused of giving a map of Mumbai to the attackers were acquitted. In the year-long trial — unusually fast by Indian standards — there were close to 700 witnesses, more than 3,000 pages of evidence, and 13,000 pages of charges (The News). Mohammed Ajmal Kasab initially denied the charges, then pleaded guilty, then reverted to his original plea; he is due to be sentenced tomorrow and could face life in prison or the death penalty.
Camp Chapman targeted again
A suicide attacker rammed an explosives-laden vehicle into the same U.S. base in Khost, eastern Afghanistan, where a Jordanian suicide bomber killed seven U.S. intelligence officers in late December, leaving one Afghan civilian dead and two guards wounded (AFP, AP, Pajhwok, AJE, BBC, Reuters, CNN). A spokesman for the Quetta Shura Taliban claimed responsibility.
Eight people were killed Sunday evening when a passenger van drive over a roadside bomb in Paktia province, also in eastern Afghanistan, after a spokesman for Afghanistan’s interior ministry said that the rate at which civilians are being killed in Afghanistan is rising (NYT, AP). Civilian deaths rose 33 percent over last year in the period from March 21 to April 21, though the interior ministry did not provide a breakdown of who was responsible for the casualties.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton parsed the difference between ‘reconciliation’ and ‘reintegration’ for militants in Afghanistan on Sunday’s Meet the Press, saying she is not resigned to the Taliban’s involvement in Afghanistan’s government and does not expect Quetta Shura Taliban leader Mullah Omar to "giv[e] up on [his] association with al-Qaeda, etc" (AP, MTP). Clinton commented, however, "I don’t know any conflict in recent times that didn’t have some political resolution associated with it."
And finally, the AP profiles the "King of Maiwand," a 30-year-old Army captain who supplies the district governor with financial backing and credibility in a "delicate balancing act" (AP).
Footie footie footie footie
Sialkot, Pakistan exports 30 million hand-stitched soccer balls per year, about 70 percent of that global output (WSJ). The industry directly employs some 70,000 people and accounts for about a fifth of the city’s exports, although machine-made soccer balls from China are threatening the market for hand-stitched ones.