NEW YORK: The Pakistani Taliban on Thursday denied any role in the botched car bombing in Times Square but praised the suspect for a ''brave job,'' as New York authorities pressed him on his claims of terrorist training.
US law enforcement officials traveled to Pakistan to question four alleged members of another militant group, Jaish-e-Mohammad, about possible connections to Faisal Shahzad, who is charged with terrorism and weapons offenses in the failed bombing that shut down Times Square and unnerved tourists and theatergoers on a busy Saturday night.
Scary headlines kept New York on edge Thursday and law enforcement agencies pounced on anything suspicious. The bomb squad was called out to look at a truck with a strong odor of gasoline that was abandoned on the Manhattan Bridge, but nothing dangerous was found inside, and a flight to the Mideast on the same airline that Shahzad boarded before his arrest Monday was called back when a passenger's name was similar to that of someone on the government's ''no-fly'' list.
The 30-year-old Shahzad — an ex-budget analyst who had been living in a low-rent apartment in Connecticut since returning from a five-month trip to Pakistan — is in custody and talking to investigators. They are trying to trace his movements in his homeland and determine whether he is connected to foreign terrorist groups.
''He's being cooperative,'' Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said, adding that investigators want to find out if ''what he's saying is in fact the truth.''
Law enforcement officials have sought to find out if Shahzad is connected to a broader terror plot and are trying to trace his steps during his trip to Pakistan that ended in February. US authorities said they have yet to establish a firm link between Shahzad and an extremist group.
''We are directly looking at who did he have contact with while in Pakistan, what did he do, who is supporting him and why,'' State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said, adding that US Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson laid groundwork for requesting help from Pakistan by reaching out to Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.
A senior State Department official said the administration would be asking Pakistan to take ''significant'' actions based on what Shahzad has been telling investigators about his visits to the country. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the requests have not yet been made.
Federal officials are investigating how Shahzad paid his rent and financed the bomb plot since he returned from Pakistan with no apparent job. He paid for the used SUV with 13 $100 bills. Officials have been investigating if Shahzad received money from militant groups — including the Pakistani Taliban, which claimed responsibility for the bombing in three videos over the weekend, a law enforcement official has told The Associated Press.
The group on Thursday reversed that earlier position, with one spokesman saying the Pakistani Taliban had nothing to do with the attempted bombing, but adding: ''Such attacks are welcome.''
The main spokesman for Taliban said the group neither trained nor recruited Faisal Shahzad.
“We don’t even know him. We did not train him,” Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan spokesman Azam Tariq told AFP by telephone.
''We have no relation with Faisal. However, he is our Muslim brother,'' Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq told the AP in Pakistan by telephone from an undisclosed location. ''We feel proud of Faisal. He did a brave job.''