Relatives say Jordanian suspected double agent who bombed CIA base wanted to die in holy war

By Jamal Halaby, AP
Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Jordanian bomber of CIA base deceived family

ZARQA, Jordan — The suspected Jordanian double agent who killed eight people on a CIA base in Afghanistan wanted to die in a holy war, and wrote fiery Internet articles calling for jihad against the U.S. and Israel, family and friends said Tuesday.

A counterterrorism official said 32-year-old Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi turned against his Jordanian intelligence recruiters who offered him to their CIA allies as someone who would help them track down al-Qaida’s No. 2 leader Ayman al-Zawahri.

Instead al-Balawi struck the CIA base near the Pakistani border last week, killing seven CIA employees and his Jordanian recruiter, Ali bin Zaid, a relative of Jordan’s King Abdullah II, said the official.

Al-Balawi’s family and friends said the Jordanian was a physician who practiced in a clinic at a Palestinian refugee camp near Zarqa, also the hometown of slain al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

High-school friend Mohammed Yousef said al-Balawi deceived family and friends, telling them in March he was going to Turkey for further medical studies when he in fact he traveled to Afghanistan to join militants.

The bombing — the worst attack against the CIA in decades — exposed the close cooperation between Jordanian intelligence and the CIA, which has for decades helped fund and train Jordanian operatives.

In return, Jordan has acted as a proxy jailer for the CIA, interrogating several al-Qaida militants who were flown in on rendition flights from Guantanamo Bay.

A key U.S. ally in the Middle East, Jordan has consistently offered intelligence to the United States on militants and helped track down al-Zarqawi, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Iraq in June, 2006.

The bombing in Afghanistan’s Khost province was an embarrassment for Jordan. The country’s pro-U.S. government has gone to great lengths to conceal its connection with the attack on the CIA to avoid angering Arabs disgruntled with Washington’s Mideast policy, which they regard as biased in favor of Israel.

Jordanian government spokesman Nabil Sharif and other top officials have insisted that Jordan had no link to or knowledge of last Wednesday’s bombing.

The circumstances surrounding the death of bin Zaid, the intelligence officer, remain shrouded in secrecy. Jordan’s official media said he was involved in humanitarian work in Afghanistan. His funeral was attended by the king and his wife, Queen Rania

Yousef, the high school friend, said al-Balawi did not know al-Zarqawi when he worked at the Palestinian camp clinic run by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, near Zarqa.

Al-Balawi deceived his family, he said, telling them last March he was joining his Turkish wife and two daughters in Turkey to take an exam that would have allowed him to practice medicine in the United States.

Instead, he went to Afghanistan, where he joined other Arab fighters working with al-Qaida, according to the Middle East counterterrorism official who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to comment on a security incident involving the CIA.

Al-Balawi was recruited in Jordan last March, when the Jordanian Intelligence Directorate jailed him for three days after he signed up to go to the Gaza Strip with a Jordanian field hospital following Israel’s military incursion there, the official said.

“He fooled us, saying he was going to continue his medical studies, but he embarked on a suicide mission,” said a close relative, who also insisted on anonymity citing instructions from Jordanian authorities to the family not to talk to the media.

“He never called us,” added the bearded relative as he wept over al-Balawi’s death. He said the family found out about the death in a telephone call last Thursday from an anonymous person who claimed to be from the Taliban.

He said Al-Balawi’s death was later confirmed to the family when Jordanian authorities summoned relatives to caution them against speaking with anyone about the incident in Afghanistan.

“They even banned us from holding a wake,” he added.

The relative and Yousef described the bomber as “brilliant,” a devout Muslim, well-mannered, well-spoken, but a little anti-social.

Al-Balawi came from a nomadic Bedouin clan from Tabuk, in western Saudi Arabia, which has branches in Jordan and the West Bank. He was born in Kuwait in 1977 and lived there until Iraq’s 1990 invasion of the rich Gulf nation when the family moved to Jordan. He graduated with honors from an Amman high school and studied medicine in Turkey. He had two daughters from his marriage to a Turkish journalist, his family said.

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