ISLAMABAD -- Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud lacks the capacity to attack the United States and a threat to do so reflected the aims of his al Qaeda allies, analysts said on Thursday.
Mehsud, accused of orchestrating a string of attacks in Pakistan from the Waziristan region on the Afghan border, warned on Tuesday that Washington may be attacked for offering $5 million for information leading to his location or arrest.
"He normally doesn't issue hollow threats," said retired Brigadier Mehmood Shah, a former chief of security in militant-plagued northwest Pakistan.
Over the past few years, Mehsud has risen from obscurity to become Pakistan's most notorious militant commander, blamed for the 2007 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
Because of his attacks and leadership qualities, al Qaeda was increasingly dealing directly with him, Shah said.
"He seems to have convinced al Qaeda he's a useful man ... When he speaks of a threat to Washington, he means al Qaeda. By himself, he doesn't have the capacity to carry out an operation so far away. He's talking for al Qaeda," he said.
General David Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command, said in Washington on Wednesday officials were studying whether Mehsud's warning posed a credible threat to the United States.
"Everyone is quite riveted on analyzing that and seeing what further we can find out," Petraeus said in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Mehsud, who has links with the Taliban in Afghanistan and sends fighters to target Western forces there, issued his warning while announcing that his group carried out an assault on a police academy in Lahore on Monday that killed eight cadets.
Mehsud said the attack was in retaliation for U.S. drone attacks on militants in Pakistan. He vowed more attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as in the United States.
A patchwork of militant factions is based in northwest Pakistan's ethnic Pashtun border lands.
Khadim Hussain of the Aryana Institute think-tank said the factions, including Mehsud's, were increasingly united in a network that looked to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who is believed to be hiding in the area, as supreme leader.
While Mehsud alone was not capable of launching a strike in the United States, he might be able to activate al Qaeda's global network through the militant alliance. Mehsud was not speaking for himself when he issued his threat, Hussain said.
"He's giving voice to this network and probably he's been taking some kind of clues and suggestions from them," he said.
Analysts said Mehsud's threat was also aimed at driving a wedge between Pakistan and the United States, where frustration has been growing with what is seen as Pakistan's failure to stop militants crossing into Afghanistan
U.S. military commanders have also made public accusations that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence has maintained ties with groups close to al Qaeda and the Taliban.
"He knows there is a lot of resentment against Pakistan in the United States and he wants to add to that," said security analyst Ikram Sehgal.
"Clearly, it's black propaganda. He has managed to spook the Pakistanis at the same time creating hatred against Pakistan. I think that was the idea," he said.
The U.S. State Department has described Mehsud as a clear threat to American interests in the region. In his testimony, Petraeus said the cross-border reach of Mehsud's group was questionable, but he added the threat would be taken seriously.
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