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Suicide bomber who attacked CIA post in Afghanistan was trusted informant from Jordan

Map: Site of last week's attack on CIA base
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 5, 2010

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.

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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 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 with backgrounds ranging from law enforcement to military Special Forces.

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 that the bomber was an Afghan soldier or perhaps 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, despite a history of support for Islamist extremism -- a point of view he appeared to endorse in an interview with an al-Qaeda-affiliated publication as recently as this past fall.

"He was someone who had already worked with us," said a former U.S. counterterrorism officer who discussed the ongoing investigation on the condition of anonymity. The official said Balawi had been jointly managed by U.S. and Jordanian agencies and had provided "actionable intelligence" over several weeks of undercover work along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

The CIA declined to comment on reports identifying Balawi as the bomber, first posted by al-Jazeera television on its Web site. 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.

"The agency is determined to continue pursuing aggressive counterterrorism operations," the official said. "Last week's attack will be avenged. Some very bad people will eventually have a very bad day."

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 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 Web sites. 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 Web site.


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