MODERATOR: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. To start off today’s briefing, we have Ambassador-at-Large for Counterterrorism Dan Benjamin and Rob Hartung, Assistant Director of the Threat Investigations and Analysis Directorate of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. And they’re here to talk about some steps that we announced this morning with respect to designations of the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan, or TTP. We’ll start off with Dan Benjamin.
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: Thank you, P.J., and thank you for attending this briefing. Today I’m pleased to announce the designation of the Tehrik-e Taliban as both a Foreign Terrorist Organization and as a Special Designated Global Terrorist Organization, in tandem with the designation of two of its senior leaders, Hakimullah Mehsud and Wali Ur Rehman, under Executive Order 13224.
These designations are part of our multipronged approach to disrupt and dismantle Tehrik-e Taliban in Pakistan. These actions will help stem the flow of finances to the TTP and provide the Department of Justice with a critical tool to prosecute those who knowingly provide material support to the TTP and its senior leaders.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the law on these matters, our ability to prosecute terrorist groups and their supporters is greatly enhanced by designations such as this one, which are essential for bringing charges of material support.
In another step against the TTP, the Department’s Rewards for Justice Program has announced a $5 million reward for any information leading to the arrest of Mehsud or Rehman. My colleague, Robert Hartung, Assistant Director of the Threat Investigations and Analysis Directorate in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, will discuss this following my remarks.
Elsewhere in the U.S. Government, the Department of Justice has filed an arrest warrant for Hakimullah Mehsud and charged him with conspiracy to murder U.S. citizens abroad and conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction. These charges stem from Mehsud’s alleged involvement in the murder of seven American citizens at a U.S. military base in Khost, Afghanistan on December 30, 2009.
The various actions taken today against the TTP support the U.S. effort to degrade the capabilities of this dangerous group. We are determined to eliminate TTP’s ability to execute violent attacks and to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat their networks.
Tehrik-e Taliban, also known as the Pakistani Taliban, is an organization consisting of a number of militant groups that coalesced under the banner of TTP in 2007. Formed under the direction of militant leader Baitullah Mehsud, TTP is rooted in the tribal belt along the Afghan-Pakistani border.
Hekimullah Mehsud became the group’s leader when Baitullah Mehsud was killed in August 2009. Wali Ur Rehman is the TTP amir in South Waziristan.
We should be very clear about this. The TTP is very much part of the most dangerous terrorist threat the United States faces. The TTP and al-Qaida have a symbiotic relationship. TTP draws ideological guidance from al-Qaida while al-Qaida relies on the TTP for safe haven in the Pashtun areas along the Afghan-Pakistani border.
This mutual cooperation gives TTP access to both al-Qaida's global terrorist network and the operational experience of its members. Given the proximity of the two groups and the nature of their relationship, TTP is a force multiplier for al-Qaida.
TTP’s goals include toppling the Government of Pakistan by waging a campaign of terrorism against the civilian leaders of that country and its military. The group also targets NATO forces in Afghanistan. TTP has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks against both Pakistani and U.S. interests.
TTP has also been accused by Pakistan law enforcement of being behind the 2007 assassination of Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
Among the numerous TTP attacks carried out under Mehsud and Rehman’s leadership in addition to the December 2009 suicide attack on our base that I mentioned earlier was also the April 2010 suicide bombing against the U.S. Consulate in Peshawar which killed six Pakistani citizens.
Most recently, TTP claimed involvement in the failed attempt by Faisal Shahzad to detonate an explosive device in New York City’s Time Square on May 1st, 2010. TTP’s claim has been validated by investigations that revealed that the group directed and facilitated the plot.
Let me now turn the podium over to Robert Hartung. And I look forward to your questions afterward.
MR. HARTUNG: Thank you, Ambassador. Good afternoon. I am pleased to announced today that the U.S. Department of State Rewards for Justice Program is offering rewards of up to $5 million each for information that leads law enforcement or security forces to Hakimullah Mehsud and Wali Ur Rehman.
Under their direction, the terrorist organization Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, launched a suicide bombing at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan, attacked the U.S. Consulate in Peshawar, Pakistan, and planned the failed bombing in New York City’s Time Square. In Southern Asia, Mr. Mehsud and Mr. Rehman have planned and organized the killing of citizens from both the United States and Pakistan.
These individuals are dedicated terrorists, and they are attempting to extend their bloody reach into the American homeland. They are a danger to the interests of the United States, to its facilities and its citizens. For that reason, we urge anyone with information on the whereabouts of Mr. Mehsud or Mr. Rehman to contact the Rewards for Justice Program, a U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate or a U.S. military commander immediately. You may contact RFJ by visiting the RFJ website at www.RewardsforJustice.net. There you may submit a tip anonymously. You may also reach the Rewards for Justice Program via e-mail at RFJ@State.gov. All information will be kept strictly confidential.
The RFJ Program has been an effective tool in our fight against international terrorism. Since its inception in 1984, the program has paid more than $100 million to more than 60 people who have provided credible information that prevented international terrorist attacks or helped bring terrorists to justice. Through the efforts of the courageous people who have stepped forward with information about wanted terror suspects, the Rewards for Justice Program has helped law enforcement authorities throughout the world stop terrorists and save lives. I am hopeful that our rewards program will play a similar role in bringing Mr. Mehsud and Mr. Rehman to justice. Thank you.
QUESTION: Just for clarification, can you repeat the figures of more than 100 million for --
MR. HARTUNG: More than $100 million to over 60 individuals.
MR. HARTUNG: 1984.
QUESTION: Can you give us some more information about TTP, how big this organization is, how many people work here? And also, what kind of relationship it has or does it has with ISI, as reported in various U.S. media outlets?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: Well, it's important to remember that this is a group that has been already proscribed – that is our equivalent of being designated – by the Pakistani authorities. And I think that’s very important to note.
We may have some numbers for you that we can supply you with afterward. I believe it's in the several thousands of members.
A number of other attacks that you may recall that they were responsible for, there was a large vehicle-borne IED attack in Kohat on a police station that killed seven people. That was in April. And at the end of May, they carried out attacks on three mosques, minority mosques, Ahmadiyya mosques in Lahore, and that killed 86 people. And there are many, many more attacks that go with that.
QUESTION: And about the links with ISI, several American (inaudible) have written about it.
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: I don't know anything about any links.
QUESTION: This has been under consideration for how long?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: Well, I can’t give you the date that we started this. We have looked at this for a while. The important thing to remember about these designations is it’s quite a laborious and deliberative process. These are determinations that need to be able to stand up in court. And if you, I think, look back at the history of designations, you will find that many – TTP really only appears in late 2007 and there are many other groups that took much longer to designate. But the main thing is that there is a great deal of research and evaluation that has to go on before all these statutory requirements can be met for a designation.
QUESTION: Right. But the Justice Department, you say, is charging him with murder in the – of the CIA – sorry, you didn't say that – of the Americans in Khost at the – which we all know were mostly CIA, even if you guys haven't said it. And that was in summer of 2009, correct?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: I believe that's right.
QUESTION: So --
MR. CROWLEY: December.
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: I'm sorry, it was in December of 2009. December 30th, 2009.
QUESTION: So December 30th. Now, there are also – you’re also saying here that they were involved in this May – in the failed Times Square bombing. I realize it’s impossible to prove a negative here, but had – if you had suspected them in the bombing in Khost and then put them on these – and designated them, do you think that would have made any difference in whether Faisal Shahzad was able to travel to Pakistan, get his training and experience, as well as the money, which you say is one of the main things – squashing the funding? Would that have been preventable?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: I think that’s really a question for the Justice Department and the FBI, more specifically. But frankly, I’m not sure it would have made a difference.
QUESTION: Sir, as far as rewards are concerned or designating these terrorists operating out of Pakistan, what many, including Syria and many other countries, including India, are complaining that these groups are still again back in Pakistan with different new names. They’re still operating there. So what are you doing about that? What have you done – that the one you just designated as terrorist groups, but they will just change their name tomorrow or this evening?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: We actually are pretty nimble when it comes to adding other names for these groups to the designation so that they are covered as well. It’s obviously an annoyance, but it’s nonetheless something that we’re capable of doing and do quite frequently.
QUESTION: What I’m really saying that have you or are you speaking to the Pakistani authorities that these groups do not operate under the new names and are you going to enforce this new –
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: Of course, we notify everyone whenever we add a new name. It’s published in the Register. It is communicated to relevant foreign governments. Believe me, we’re quite vigorous about making sure that these designations are well known and that partner governments are working with us against these groups.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: I’m sorry.
QUESTION: I’m just wondering if you could tell us if there have been any immediate practical effects of this designation. Have we found out that the TTP has financial assets in this country that can be frozen? What does this mean for money going in and out of Pakistan? What happens now that –
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: We find that out as a result of these designations. In other words, it’s because – and I defer to the Treasury, which will be able to answer your questions on how exactly that enforcement is carried out. But it’s because banks are notified that these are designated organizations that they become much more vigilant about any transactions that might involve the TTP. But again, I think that the best explanation of the enforcement aspect of these designations would come from Treasury.
QUESTION: Sir, do you expect this designation will help speed up the capture or the pursuit or the killing of Usama bin Ladin?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: Well, as I said, the TTP has a close relationship with al-Qaida. But that said, we have a lot of different relationships in the terrorist world, many different groups, and we have an individual who has shown rather – to be himself rather capable at going to ground and being hard to track. So you never know when you’re going to find the right lead, but – and you should never stop looking. But I don’t think we ought to be in the business of predicting that this will be the designation that makes everything happen.
QUESTION: What’s the evidence linking Mehsud to weapons of mass destruction?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: Again, I defer to FBI and DOJ on this. But under the statute, the weapon of mass destruction is not necessarily a chemical, biological, nuclear, or radiological device. It can also be – as I understand it, various kinds of IEDs are also covered by the statute there.
QUESTION: Well, but that was a suicide bomber.
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: Well, those are IEDs that they’re using.
QUESTION: So a suicide bomber is now considered a weapon of mass destruction?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: It depends on the technical details of the bombs, and I’m going to let the FBI answer that question. This is, by the way, not something new. This has been true for many, many years.
QUESTION: As the TTP is based in Pakistan, have you informed the Government of Pakistan, and what is their response and what are the joint actions you are going to take?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: Well, let me begin by saying that, as part of the whole designation process, we do go out and tell all of our – all the relevant partners about the designation process and its implications. I think that beyond that in terms of any enforcement or operational activity, that will be between us and the Pakistanis because I’m not really interested in giving the terrorists any hints as to what we might do.
QUESTION: You said relevant partners. Who else is a partner except U.S. and Pakistan?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: Well, there are many, many different countries around the world that have an interest in these designations, many of our European partners who will also – and in other parts of the world who will follow our lead in terms of imposing economic sanctions on the group and make material support illegal in their countries as well.
QUESTION: I have just two questions. Are any other Pakistan-based terrorist organization under consideration for being branded as foreign terrorist outfit? And secondly, there was also similar reward for Baitullah Mehsud. Did anyone get that reward – he was killed?
AMBASSADOR BENJAMIN: I’ll let Mr. Hartung answer the second question. But let me just say that, for obvious reasons, we don’t discuss exactly who we are thinking of designating at any particular time, again, because we don’t want to show our hand. These are very much internal deliberations.
MR. HARTUNG: And regarding Mr. Mehsud, no, a reward was not given in that case.
MR. CROWLEY: Other questions? Gentlemen, thank you.