Pakistani Taliban claims responsibility for US shootout (Lead)

April 4th, 2009 - 7:50 pm ICT by IANS  

Taliban Islamabad, April 4 (DPA) Pakistan’s top Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud has claimed responsibility for the Friday shootings at a US immigration services centre in upstate New York that killed 13 people.
A lone gunman took more than 40 immigrants hostage Friday when they were taking a citizenship class at the American Civic Association building in Binghamton, located around 225 km northwest of New York City.

The attacker, identified as Vietnamese immigrant Jiverly Wong, 42, killed 13 people before shooting himself in the head. Four people were also critically wounded.

“We gladly and proudly take responsibility for yesterday’s (Friday) action,” Mehsud told reporters in Peshawar, the capital of Pakistan’s troubled North West Frontier Province (NWFP), by phone from an undisclosed location.

He claimed the attack was carried out by two people, one of whom managed to flee from the scene. However, he did not identify “his men”.

Mehsud said the massacre was in revenge for the continued US drone attacks on Pakistan’s tribal region bordering Afghanistan. The seven semi-autonomous tribal districts are known to serve as sanctuaries for Al Qaeda and Taliban rebels.

“We are not the one who started it, the Americans did it with the drone strikes,” he was cited as saying by BBC’s Urdu Service on its website. We will hit more US targets in future, he added.

Mehsud’s claim came hours after a suspected US pilotless aircraft fired missiles on a militant hideout in the North Waziristan tribal district, killing at least 13 people and injured eight more.

A local intelligence official said some of those killed were “foreigners”, a term locally used for Al Qaeda fighters of Arab and Central Asian origin.

The US has carried out over three dozen similar air-raids in tribal region and killed more than 300 militants and dozens of civilians in recent months.

Mehsud has his stronghold in the neighbouring South Waziristan district, but he heads Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, an umbrella organisation for more than a dozen militant groups in tribal belt and the adjoining NWFP.

He is suspected of planning and ordering dozens of suicide attacks across Pakistan, including the one which killed former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007, but few believe his men are really capable of conducting attacks in the US.

A senior Pakistani security official, when contacted, refused to comment on the issue.

Last month, the US State Department announced a $5 million reward for information leading to the arrest of Mehsud.

The Taliban commander had threatened attacks inside the US Tuesday when he accepted responsibility for three recent terrorist attacks in Pakistan, including an assault on a police training academy near the eastern city of Lahore Monday, which killed eight recruits and two civilians.

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