Bomber in CIA attack a double agent
Jordanian doctor behind blast brought to U.S. base in belief he could deliver top Al Qaeda operative
WASHINGTON–The suicide bomber who killed seven CIA operatives in Afghanistan last week was a Jordanian informant who lured intelligence officers into a trap by promising new information about Al Qaeda's top leadership, former U.S. government officials said Monday.
The attacker, a physician-turned-mole, had been recruited to infiltrate Al Qaeda's senior circles and had gained the trust of his CIA and Jordanian handlers with a stream of useful intelligence leads, according to two former senior officials briefed on the agency's internal investigation. His track record as an informant apparently allowed him to enter a key CIA post without a thorough search, the sources said.
The bomber, identified as Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, was standing just outside an agency building on the base on Wednesday when he exploded a bomb hidden under his clothes, killing the seven Americans along with a Jordanian officer who had been assigned to work with him. Six CIA operatives were wounded.
The agency has declined to publicly identify the victims, a mix of career officers and contractors.
Details about the suicide bomber's identity provided jarring insight into how a vital intelligence post in eastern Afghanistan was penetrated in the deadliest attack on the CIA in more than 25 years. Initial reports suggested the bomber was an Afghan soldier or a local informant who had been brought onto the base for debriefing.
Instead, the new evidence points to a carefully planned act of deception by a trusted operative from a country closely allied with the United States in the fight against Al Qaeda. U.S. and Jordanian officials had come to regard Balawi as trustworthy, former officials said.
"He was someone who had already worked with us," said a former U.S. counterterrorism officer.
The CIA declined to comment on reports identifying Balawi as the bomber, first posted by Al Jazeera on its website. A U.S. intelligence official said only that the agency is "looking closely at every aspect" of the attack on the facility known as Forward Operating Base Chapman, in the province of Khost near Afghanistan's border with Pakistan.
Al Jazeera described Balawi as a 36-year-old physician from Zarqa, a Jordanian town that also was the home of Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the slain former leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq. It said Balawi had been recruited to help track down Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian physician and second in command of Al Qaeda, who U.S. intelligence officials believe is hiding in the lawless border region.
Balawi had a history of supporting jihadist causes and had been arrested in late 2007, according to SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist websites. He was detained by Jordan's intelligence agency, which sought to turn him into an informant, the former government officials said.
Before his arrest, Balawi, who used the online name Abu Dujana al-Khorasani, was a well-known contributor to al-Hesbah, a once prominent jihadist forum, according to SITE. He eventually became an administrator of the website.
The role of Jordanian intelligence at the CIA's base was tacitly acknowledged over the weekend when the body of the Jordanian intelligence operative was flown home for a military burial in the capital city of Amman. The man was identified in Jordanian news accounts as Sharif Ali bin Zeid.
Jordan is a key ally in the U.S. fight against Al Qaeda, and its intelligence operatives have been integrated into missions in the Middle East and beyond, current and former U.S. intelligence officials say. However, Jordan's role has remained virtually invisible.