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FBI Chief Faces Pakistani Pandora's Box

Hours after terrorists attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team last week in Lahore, Pakistan, killing eight people and injuring seven players, FBI Director Robert Mueller landed in Islamabad to meet with Pakistani officials. Mueller was seeking information about … terrorists.

Mueller wanted access to 20 Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) suspects being held in Islamabad; men believed to have been involved in the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, that killed more than 170 people last November. The timing was a macabre coincidence. But if that didn’t underscore just how big the Pakistani terrorist problem is, the fact that Pakistani officials denied Mueller access to the LeT suspects certainly did. Mueller is America’s top investigator. Without cooperation from Pakistan, America faces a much harder job in identifying LeT sleeper cells in the United States.

Since 2001, more than a dozen American citizens have been convicted in American courts of training at Lashkar’s foreign terrorist camps. Remember the ten convicted “paintball jihadis,” also known as members of a “Virginia jihad network”? They all trained at camps run by LeT in Pakistan. In April 2005, Ali al-Timimi, an American-born Muslim cleric living in Virginia, was convicted of “inciting followers to wage war against the United States just days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.” Al-Timimi was the most high profile in a case of nine other LeT terrorism-related convictions.

According to the the Investigative Project on Terrorism, tens of thousands of Pakistanis have trained in Lashkar’s terrorist training camps in Pakistan since 1989. There, weapons training includes the use of explosives, assault rifles, machine guns, mortars, and rocket-propelled grenades. In a post-Mumbai world, the FBI wants to learn who else has been trained there, hence Mueller’s visit. The Mumbai attackers have been linked to LeT training camps, making it clear exactly how much carnage can be wrought by a low-tech attack in a major urban city.

In a recent speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, Mueller confirmed that the FBI is now putting more focus on LeT-type terrorist groups, particularly because of their easy access into the United States. Specifically, Mueller cited the growing threat from terrorists coming into the United States from “visa waiver countries — [people who are] merely an e-ticket away from the United States.” While Pakistan is not a visa waiver country, the United Kingdom is. The UK has the second largest Pakistani population overseas (after Saudi Arabia) and every terrorist attack in the UK in this century has been linked to British citizens of Pakistani descent. Visa waiver programs are potential gateways for terrorists to get into the United States, because individuals traveling without a visa are not subjected to face-to-face interviews or added layers of scrutiny.

In January, federal officials told the Senate Homeland Security Committee that low-tech assaults are the more likely terrorist attacks of the future. Their deadly effects cannot be underestimated. “The [LeT] attackers were able to fend off responding forces, just using automatic rifles, grenades, and some IEDs [improvised explosive devices], basically the weapons of a basic infantryman,” Charles Allen, the chief intelligence officer of the DHS, told Congress. “They also used satellite and cell phones to maximize effectiveness, and they monitored press coverage of the attack through wireless communication devices they had taken from hostages.”

So why won’t Pakistan cooperate with the FBI? For starters, it is well known that the Pakistani government’s relationship to LeT is based on longstanding ties. LeT was set up by Pakistan decades ago, in order to fight proxy wars against India in Kashmir on behalf of the Pakistan army. Pakistan is now dealing with its own form of blowback from its LeT operations there. Giving FBI Director Mueller access to LeT terrorists would be opening Pakistan’s “Pandora’s box.”

Further complicating the scenario is the suggestion of complicity on the part of Pakistan. Referee Chris Broad was traveling in a van in the convoy with the Sri Lankan team when the terrorists opened fired last week, killing Broad’s driver and critically wounding his colleague. “There was not a sign of a policeman anywhere,” Broad told reporters. “They had clearly left the scene and left us to be sitting ducks.”

Pakistani cricket authorities say Broad’s comments were “totally fabricated” and filed a complaint against him. As for FBI Director Mueller, it seems he left Islamabad empty-handed of interviews with LeT terrorists being held there.