AMMAN, Jordan, (AP) – Jordan’s counterterrorism forces have arrested the brother of an al-Qaeda triple agent who blew himself up in a CIA outpost in Afghanistan in 2009, a Jordanian security official and two Islamist leaders said Tuesday.
The attack in the Afghan province of Khost killed seven CIA employees and was one of the worst tragedies in the history of the American intelligence agency.
A Jordanian security official said the arrested man, Ayman al-Balawi, 38, was detained in a sweep Friday along with 102 other members of the ultraconservative Muslim Salafi sect.
The sweep followed violent clashes with anti-government protesters in the eastern Jordanian city of Zarqa during which Salafis stabbed unarmed policemen with swords and knives, wounding 83 officers, and brandished bundles of barbed wire.
Salafis — a banned sect which operates underground in Jordan — have held a series of rallies in various parts of the country in recent weeks. Their demonstrations are separate from the four-month-old wave of anti-government protests demanding democratic reforms and inspired by uprisings in the Arab world.
The security official said Tuesday that Ayman al-Balawi is the brother of Humam al-Balawi, the Jordanian physician-turned-bomber who carried out the December 2009 strike in Khost. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the sweep with the media. He said al-Balawi was not in the Zarqa protest.
“He tried to resist the arrest but he was overwhelmed,” the official told The Associated Press. He said Ayman was arrested in his home in Nuzha — which, like Zarqa, is a predominantly Palestinian refugee neighborhood in the heart of the Jordanian capital Amman.
Two militant Islamist leaders speculated that the arrest of Ayman, a known senior Salafi figure, was related to his recent call on an Islamic militant website urging followers to force the implementation of the strict Islamic Sharia law in Jordan.
The two leaders also spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity, saying they feared police reprisals.
In his posting, Ayman argued that if Sharia law was in place in Jordan, it would help resolve the country’s economic and political problems, including what he described as “regime’s misdeeds.”
He also called for toppling Jordan’s King Abdullah II, a moderate U.S. Arab ally who maintains cordial ties with Israel under a 1994 peace treaty.
Ayman’s mother, Shunara Awwad, said her son was preaching in an Amman mosque on Friday and was nowhere near the Zarqa protest. “He’s a mosque preacher, employed by the religious affairs ministry and he went to the mosque to work on Friday,” she said.
The security official said Ayman and others arrested in the sweep espouse what is called “takfiri” — an extremist doctrine that regards even non-militant Muslims as infidels.
He said the Salafis have about 4,000 members in Jordan, and are split along the lines of “hawks and doves” in their ideology.
Ali al-Halabi, who heads a moderate Salafi wing with about 1,000 followers, said his group was not part of the Zarqa clashes and denounced the violence.
“Although we agree on the necessity of implementing Sharia law in Jordan, Islam does not condone violence to achieve that,” al-Halabi said.
Last month, Ayman — who also goes by another first name, Mohammed — addressed an anti-government rally, saying authorities must release those convicted of links to al-Qaeda. Otherwise, he warned militants would “hunt down” Jordanian intelligence officers, who he also accused of torturing detainees.
In the Khost attack, Ayman’s brother Humam Khalil al-Balawi — better known by his militant name, Abu Dujana al-Khurasani — also killed a Jordanian intelligence officer.
The Jordanian bomber was in fact a triple agent, recruited first by Jordanian intelligence to provide information to the CIA on al-Qaeda’s number 2, Ayman al-Zawahri. But he turned on his handlers.
Jordan has convicted scores of al-Qaeda suspects for links to the terror network or for plotting deadly attacks in the kingdom, including a triple hotel bombing in 2005, which killed 60 people in Amman.
The attack was claimed by then-leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, the Zarqa native Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. A year later, al-Zarqawi himself was killed in a U.S. attack in Iraq.
Al-Qaeda has targeted Jordan because of its moderate outlook, close ties to the United States, the treaty with Israel, and support for the U.S.-led global war on terrorism.