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Times Square bomb: Did Pakistan Taliban send its 'C' team?

If Faisal Shahzad, the suspect in the Times Square bomb case, trained with the Pakistan Taliban, as US officials say, why was his bomb so poorly built?

FBI agents remove evidence from a house in Bridgeport, Conn., on Tuesday. Law enforcement officials are puzzling over the terrorist training of Faisal Shahzad, the man they believe is behind last week's Times Square car bomb.

Mark Lennihan/AP

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By Peter Grier, Staff writer / May 10, 2010

Washington

Faisal Shahzad, the suspect in the Times Square bombing case, trained in Pakistan with the Taliban, according to US officials. “I am comfortable in saying that they were involved in what Shahzad tried to do,” said Attorney General Eric Holder in an NBC interview broadcast Sunday.

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But if Mr. Shahzad did attend a jihadist academy in South Waziristan, or some other remote Pakistani region, why wasn’t he a better bomb maker?

Shahzad’s explosive device appears to have been odd, and amateurish. Yet the Taliban’s basic field manual has two chapters on explosives and addresses everything from the correct creation of detonators to the exact chemical compositions required for homemade bombs.

It’s possible that Shahzad was not able to obtain the necessary components for a better bomb, due to federal restrictions. It’s also possible that worldwide counterterrorism efforts are having an effect.

“This may suggest we are moving from the ‘A’ team in recruits to the ‘B’ team or even the ‘C’ team,” says William Martel, an associate professor of international security studies at the Tufts University Fletcher School of International Affairs.

There is still much to be learned about the Times Square incident, in which Shahzad’s vehicle bomb smoked and burned, but did not explode.

According to law enforcement officials, the bomb was made of fireworks, gasoline, propane tanks, and fertilizer. While these substances are flammable and dangerous in their own right, they are not typical bomb components, with the exception of fertilizer. For ammonium nitrate fertilizer to become a powerful explosive, it must be mixed with fuel oil – a step Shahzad reportedly had not taken.

Shahzad himself was far from an uneducated foot soldier. He was raised in Pakistan in affluent circumstances, and earned a college degree in the US after arriving in 1999 on a student visa. He has traveled back to Pakistan numerous times since moving to America – most recently in July, 2009.

US officials say Shahzad is providing them with information – which may be the basis for their confident assertions linking him to the Pakistani Taliban.

“This is a group that is closely allied with Al Qaeda … it is dedicated to the same type of agenda that Al Qaeda has, which is a murderous one,” said Deputy National Security Adviser for Counterterrorism John Brennan on CNN.

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