January 5, 2010 in News
By Joby Warrick
January 5, 2010
WASHINGTON – The suicide bomber who killed seven CIA operatives in Afghanistan last week was a Jordanian informant who lured intelligence officers into a meeting with a promise of new information about Al Qaeda’s top leadership, according to two former US government officials briefed on the incident.
The informant had been working undercover in eastern Afghanistan for weeks, and had provided US spies with what one official described as “actionable intelligence’’ when he set the trap, the sources said.
In addition to the seven US operatives, the bomb blast at a CIA base in Khost province killed a Jordanian intelligence official who had been assigned to work with the informant, the officials said. The American victims included Harold Brown Jr., a 37-year-old from Bolton, Mass.
The alleged bomber, identified as Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, was picked up in a vehicle a distance from the CIA base and apparently was not thoroughly searched before being brought into the compound, said one of the former officials, a veteran counterterrorism officer who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the incident remains under investigation.
“He was someone who had already worked with us,’’ said the official, adding that the informant had been jointly managed by US and Jordanian intelligence agencies.
The CIA declined to comment.
The name of the alleged bomber was first reported by al-Jazeera, which described Balawi as a physician from the Jordanian town of Zarqa, also the home of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the slain former leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq.
Al-Jazeera reported that Balawi had been recruited to help track down Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian physician and No. 2 leader of Al Qaeda. MSNBC also reported that Balawi was the bomber.
The role of Jordanian intelligence at the CIA’s Forward Operating Base Chapman was tacitly acknowledged over the weekend when the body of the dead Jordanian intelligence operative was flown home for a military burial in the capital city of Amman. The man, identified in Jordanian press accounts as Sharif Ali bin Zeid, was assigned to work as a “handler’’ for Balawi, the former US counterterrorism official said.
Jordan is a key ally in the US fight against Al Qaeda and its intelligence operatives have been integrated into missions in the Middle East and beyond, current and former US intelligence officials say.
“They know the bad guy’s . . . culture, his associates, and more [than anyone] about the network to which he belongs,’’ said Jamie Smith, a former CIA officer who worked in the border region in the years immediately after US-backed Afghan forces drove the Taliban from power in Afghanistan.
Jordanians were particularly prized for their skill in interrogating captives and cultivating informants, owing to an unrivaled “expertise with radicalized militant groups and Shia/Sunni culture,’’ said Smith, who heads a private security company known as SCG International.
Yet, despite Jordan’s critical role, officials from both countries have insisted that its participation remain virtually invisible, in part to avoid damaging Amman’s standing among other Muslim nations in the region, former intelligence officials said.
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