ISLAMABAD - (AP) — The Times Square bombing suspect hails from a respected family in a conservative part of Pakistan and there was never any indication he had been drawn to extremism, relatives and friends said Wednesday.
Details about Faisal Shahzad's background emerged as the Pakistani army cast doubt on claims by the Pakistan Taliban that they were behind the failed attack in New York.
Relatives said the family belongs to Pakistan's elite. Shahzad's father was a retired air vice marshal in the Pakistani air force, said Kifyat Ali, a cousin of Shahzad's father. Shahzad has a brother who is a mechanical engineer in Canada, a sister who works at a hospital, and another sister who previously worked as an educator, Ali said.
"His family is very peaceful and they don't have any link with any political or religious party," said Syed Ahmad, a relative in the family's ancestral home in Pabbi district in the northwest.
Shahzad, who grew up in Pakistan but left for America at the age of 18, is accused of trying to detonate a car bomb in Times Square on Saturday evening. The 30-year-old, who was arrested Monday night in New York as he attempted to fly out of the country, has allegedly told investigators he received explosives training in Waziristan, a stronghold of the Pakistani Taliban.
In a video message on Sunday, the Pakistani Taliban said it carried out the attack, in what would be its first known strike outside South Asia. U.S. officials quickly doubted the claim, but Shahzad's arrest and alleged trip to Waziristan have given it credence.
Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, the military's chief spokesman, said the claim should be "taken with a pinch of salt."
"Anybody can claim anything, but whether the organization has that kind of reach is questionable. I don't think they have the capacity to reach the next level," he said.
The attack may increase pressure on the Pakistani army to launch a new offensive in the northern part of Waziristan, something it has been avoiding until now. U.S. and European officials have long said that many of the terror plots in the West are hatched in the region.
Abbas declined to comment on reports Shahzad had been to Waziristan.
A senior security official said information gathered so far suggested Shahzad may have links to Jaish-e-Mohammad, an al-Qaida-linked militant group, though he did not say why Shahzad would have been drawn to the group in the first place.
One of several people detained for questioning since Shahzad's arrest is a man named Mohammad Rehan, a Jaish activist picked up at a mosque in Karachi that is linked to the group, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the information.
Shahzad is believed to have spent time in Karachi on his most recent trip to Pakistan last year.
The official said Rehan may have been the person who took Shahzad to Peshawar, a gateway for foreigners seeking to travel into nearby tribal regions where militant groups have long had sanctuary.
The army claimed to have decisively beaten the Pakistani Taliban in an offensive late last year in South Waziristan. But the notion that the Pakistani Taliban are on the ropes has been shaken by continued bombings in Pakistan, the emergence of videos of a top commander previously believed to have been killed and the group's claim of responsibility for the Times Square bomb attempt.
In an undated letter obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, the militant commander, Hakimullah Mehsud, threatened attacks on America and Pakistan in retaliation for the conviction in the United States of Aafia Siddiqui, a 37-year old Pakistani scientist.
Siddiqui was convicted in New York in February of trying to kill American service personnel in Afghanistan. Her case has triggered anger among Pakistani Islamist groups and in sections of the media, where she is portrayed as innocent.
The letter is addressed to Siddiqui's sister, Fozia, who is campaigning for her release.
"We are with you in the pain you have suffered in connection with Aafia Siddiqui. God willing, we will give a reply to America and the cruel rulers in Pakistan in such a way they will remember for their whole life."
The letter was given to the AP by a reporter for the local TV station that first reported its existence.
The reporter said it was seized from an arrested aide to Hakimullah and never reached Fozia.
Associated Press reporter Riaz Khan in Pabbi and Zarar Khan in Peshawar contributed to this report