Petraeus: Shahzad had no direct contacts with terrorists; Update: "Regular" and "substantial" Taliban links?

Thus does an already weird story get weirder.

Faisal Shahzad was “a lone wolf” who never had direct contact with militants in his homeland of Pakistan, Gen. David Petraeus told The Associated Press…

Shahzad, after his Monday night arrest aboard a Dubai-bound airplane, claimed he received bomb-making training during a five-month stay in Pakistan. But Petraeus’s comments cast doubt on his story…

Despite the general’s statement, investigators were still probing how the unemployed Shahzad had enough money to buy a weapon, an SUV, bomb-making materials and a plane ticket home.

Petraeus isn’t the only one who’s skeptical. According to McClatchy, no fewer than six U.S. officials confirm that there’s no hard evidence yet that Shahzad joined in any terrorist reindeer games while in Pakistan. That news prompted a full-body snarkgasm at HuffPo over how those gullible wingnut stenographers at the New York Times got caught hyping the terror threat again. Minor problem one: The McClatchy story is stenography too, relying on quotes from skeptics to try to explain why Shahzad’s bomb was so inept. Minor problem two: Starting with the fact that the Taliban video claiming credit for the attack was uploaded in Shahzad’s home state of Connecticut and continuing to today’s reports of the feds looking for a money courier who funneled large sums of cash to Shahzad, it sure does look like he acted in concert with someone, if not Taliban HQ. Minor problem three: It wasn’t just the Times that pushed the story claiming mounting evidence of links between Shahzad and jihadi groups. The Journal did too. And it wasn’t just U.S. officials in the Journal’s piece who thought the links exist:

Pakistani investigators also are probing Mr. Shahzad’s possible connections with Jaish-e-Muhammad, an outlawed Islamist militant group, after the arrest Tuesday of Tohaid Ahmed and Mohammed Rehan in Karachi.
A senior Pakistani government official said the two men were believed to have links to Jaish. Mr. Ahmed had been in email contact with Mr. Shahzad; Mr. Rehan took Mr. Shahzad to South Waziristan, the official said.

There, Mr. Shahzad received training in explosives in a camp run by Qari Hussain, the official said. Mr. Hussain is a senior commander with Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, the Pakistan Taliban’s formal name, and trains suicide bombers, the official said. Mr. Hussain is also a cousin of Hakimullah Mehsud, the Pakistan Taliban’s chief. The 30-year-old Mr. Shahzad has admitted to investigators that he received training from militants in Waziristan, U.S. officials said…

More than a dozen people have so far been picked up in Karachi, Faisalabad and Khyber-Pakhtunkhawa (formerly known as the North West Frontier Province). According to one senior Pakistani official, most of the people arrested in the sweep belonged to Jaish and a Sunni sectarian offshoot, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

I don’t know why Petraeus and the Pakistanis are on different pages. But then, I also don’t know why McClatchy’s report should be given any more credence than this new one from WaPo noting that investigators believe Shahzad’s claims of having hooked up with the Taliban over there:

Officials stressed that investigators are still struggling to come up with a cohesive account of how Shahzad evolved into a would-be terrorist but that they are increasingly convinced that his accounts to interrogators, in particular his assertion that he was trained by the Pakistani Taliban, are on the mark. It is still unclear whether the militant group mainly known for strikes inside Pakistan went beyond training Shahzad to conceiving or carrying out the plot.

“We have nothing that is contradictory to what he is telling us,” said a senior Obama administration official, adding that undisclosed new information from Shahzad’s interrogation “sheds some light” on his motivation.

Another WaPo piece out today reports that the guy who brought Shahzad to northwest Pakistan was arrested at a mosque linked to jihadi subgroup Jaish-e-Mohammed, and that another 30 suspected terrorists were rounded up yesterday for questioning in connection with the plot. Exit question: What’s Petraeus up to here? Even if he thinks Shahzad might not have had contact with any groups, given that Shahzad himself claims that he did, why not wait to see what happens with the interrogations?

Update: Odder and odder.

Shahzad’s connection to the Taliban was “regular” and “substantial,” says a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. shahzad linked up with the Pakistani Taliban online, according to separate law enforcement and intelligence officials close to the investigation, making him their first known Western recruit.

But Pakistani officials suspect the Taliban kept Shahzad at arms length out of fear he was an American agent. That is reinforced, they say, by the crudeness of the bomb and what one senior Pakistani government official called a “comedy of errors” in how he executed his plot.

“These groups might give disgruntled young people from America some guidance, but they don’t expose them to first-rate trainers, nor will they take them into their sanctuary,” the senior Pakistani government official said. “What these groups fear is that they’re CIA.”

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