New post 8/8/09: Baitullah Mehsud’s Death nearly confirmed.
New post 9/30: Baitullah Mehsud: Dead? Click here to read CHUP’s latest piece.
Tonight, CBS Evening News released rare images of Pakistan’s elusive and dangerous Taliban-linked militant, Baitullah Mehsud [see website for video]. According to the evening broadcast, the pictures are “the first ever” to surface of the alleged mastermind behind Benazir Bhutto’s assassination and the leader of Tehreek-e-Taliban, the umbrella organization of militant groups in Pakistan, [see past backgroounder on Mehsud]. Analysts have noted that Mehsud “threatens to eclipse Osama bin Laden as the world’s top terrorist.” Christine Fair, of RAND Corp., called the militant a “violence entrepreneur” who is running a training camp for suicide bombers in the FATA region. She told CBS, “He may not be out there cultivating people to send them abroad, but people abroad may seek him out for the operations that they conduct back home or elsewhere.” Unlike Bin Laden and his right-hand man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who are visible figures in the jihadist community and use propaganda to assert their power, Mehsud is a secretive tribal fighter who is cloaked in mystery. However, the militant has asserted, “We want to eradicate Britain and America …We pray that Allah will enable us to destroy the White House, New York, and London.” CBS News concluded, “While Mehsud’s emergence from the shadows is worrisome, U.S. officials hope there’s an upside. As one intelligence analyst put it, if he makes himself more visible, he’ll be easier to eliminate.”
The CBS News piece is significant not just because it provides a rare glimpse of the militant leader, but also because it further affirms that this growing threat is in our backyard. It is no longer the fight that is just “occurring in the mountains,” that is just focused against Pakistani security forces. This is a battle that has spilled over into our cities and that threatens our families and our livelihood. The difference between bin Laden and the overarching Al Qaeda organization is that their network is largely virtual – their influence and connections mainly occur online, in jihadist password-protected chat rooms and via internet propaganda. The Tehreek-e-Taliban and Mehsud, in contrast, are waging a tangible war that has immediate local and national ramifications. Suicide bombers are not solely recruited or trained online, but in physical camps located in the northern tribal areas. The government, in its focus on internal bickering and details, cannot continue to avoid this problem, because it will not go away.