Citing newly obtained evidence, senior White House officials said Sunday that the Pakistani Taliban was behind the failed Times Square bombing for which a Connecticut man is accused.
The attempt marks the first time the group has been able to launch an attack on U.S. soil. And while U.S. officials have downplayed the threat — citing the bomb's lack of sophistication — the incident in Times Square and Christmas Day airline bomber indicate growing strength by overseas terrorist groups linked to al-Qaida even as the CIA says their operations are seriously degraded.
The finding also raises new questions about the U.S. relationship with Pakistan, which is widely known to have al-Qaida and other terrorist groups operating within its borders.
Attorney General Eric Holder said that new evidence shows that the Pakistani Taliban was "intimately involved" in the bombing plot. John Brennan, the president's homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, made similar remarks, linking the bomber to the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP.
The militant group is believed to be hiding senior al-Qaida leaders, including Osama bin Laden.
"We know that they helped facilitate it," said Holder. "We know that they probably helped finance it. And that he was working at their direction."
Faisal Shahzad, of Bridegport, a U.S. citizen of Pakistani descent, is accused of spending five months in Pakistan before returning to the United States in February and preparing his attack.
Shahzad has told investigators that he trained in the lawless tribal areas of Waziristan, where both al-Qaida and the Pakistani Taliban operate. He was arrested aboard an Emirates Airlines jet in New York just minutes before it was scheduled to take off for Dubai.
After the attack, U.S. officials said they were exploring potential links to terrorist groups overseas but said it was likely that Shahzad was acting alone.
Last week, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, told NBC News that "at this point I have no information that it's anything other than a one-off." Likewise, Gen. David Petraeus told The Associated Press that Shahzad apparently operated as a "lone wolf."
Brennan on Sunday refuted suggestions that the attempted bombing shows that terrorist groups overseas were gaining strength.
"They now are relegated to trying to do these unsophisticated attacks, showing that they have inept capabilities in training," he said.
The link between an attack on U.S. soil and terrorist groups operating inside Pakistan opens up a new chapter in relations between the two countries. Until recently, administration officials have said they thought Islamabad was doing all it could.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Washington expects more cooperation from Pakistan in fighting terrorism and warned of "severe consequences" if an attack on U.S. soil were traced back to the South Asian country.
Brennan said Islamabad was being very cooperative in the investigation but that the U.S. wants to know exactly who may have been helping Shahzad.
"There are a number of terrorist and militant groups operating in Pakistan," he said. "And we need to make sure there's no support being given to them by the Pakistani government."
Brennan would not say whether Shahzad may be connected to fugitive al-Qaida cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, other than to acknowledge his Internet sermons are popular among extremist Muslims.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Pakistan has recently stepped up efforts to root out extremist militants.
"The Pakistanis have been doing so much more than 18 months or two years ago any of us would have expected," Gates told reporters at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., this week.
He referred to Pakistani Army offensives, dating to spring 2009, against Taliban extremists in areas near the Afghan border, including in south Waziristan.
Gates said the Obama administration is sticking to its policy of offering to do as much training and other military activity inside Pakistan as the Pakistani government is willing to accept.
"It's their country," Gates said. "They remain in the driver's seat, and they have their foot on the accelerator."
Brennan spoke on CNN's "State of the Union," "Fox News Sunday" and CBS' "Face the Nation." Holder spoke on NBC's "Meet the Press" and ABC's "This Week." Clinton's interview with CBS' "60 Minutes" is set to air Sunday.