AMMAN (AFP) – A suicide bomber who killed eight people in an attack on a CIA base in Afghanistan was a triple agent who apparently duped his handlers that boasts he wanted to die a martyr were just a cover, reports said.
The Jordanian intelligence services had brought the bomber to eastern Afghanistan with the specific mission of finding Al-Qaeda number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri, believing he was their double agent, US network NBC News reported late on Monday, citing Western intelligence officials.
But instead he blew himself up at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost province near the Pakistani border, killing seven CIA agents and a top Jordanian intelligence officer and wounding six other people.
The killings marked the US Central Intelligence Agency’s worst single loss of life since the bombing of the US Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983.
There has been no immediate official comment on the reports from the Jordanian authorities.
NBC identified the bomber as Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi and said that the slain Jordanian intelligence official, Captain Ali bin Zeid, a member of Jordan’s Hashemite royal family, was his supposed handler.
In a mark of Bin Zeid’s seniority, King Abdullah II, Queen Rania and other royals were on hand to receive his body when it was flown back to Jordan on Saturday following the December 30 bombing.
Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer and White House adviser, told AFP that, according to unconfirmed intelligence reports, Zawahiri himself had ordered Balawi to carry out the attack using the pretext of information about his whereabouts.
“The bomber allegedly was sent by Ayman Zawahiri himself to conduct the attack and claimed he had information on Zawahiri,” Riedel said.
NBC said the bomber had called his handler to say he needed to meet with the CIA team in Khost, because he had urgent information about Zawahiri.
Bin Zeid’s family told AFP the intelligence officer had been in Afghanistan for 20 days and had been due to return home on the day he was killed.
The Jordanian intelligence services reportedly concluded they had turned Balawi when he announced a willingness to work for Amman and Washington while in custody more than a year ago.
Jihadist websites reported his arrest in December 2007 without specifying its location, US monitoring service SITE intelligence said.
Balawi had been a prolific contributor to jihadist websites over the previous two years under the online pseudonym Abu Dujana al-Khorasani, SITE added.
He continued to issue calls for jihad, or holy war, even after his release from custody when he was supposed to be working as a Jordanian agent, the monitoring group added.
In a September 2009 posting on a site run by Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, he glorified martyrdom and called on others to follow his example.
“If (a Muslim) dies in the cause of Allah, he will grant his words glory that will be permanent marks on the path to guide to jihad, with permission from Allah,” SITE quoted him as saying.
“If love of jihad enters a man’s heart, it will not leave him even if he wants to do so.
“Indeed, what he sees of luxurious palaces will remind him of positions of the martyrs in the higher heaven.”
Jordan has been a staunch Western ally for decades but it has never confirmed the presence of its troops or intelligence officers in Afghanistan as part of the US-led coalition which overthrew the Taliban regime in 2001.
Amman has repeatedly expressed commitment to the US war against terror.
US press reports have said that that commitment extended to helping in interrogations of non-Jordanian suspects captured by the CIA and transferred to Jordan in now-infamous “rendition” flights.
The authorities in Amman likewise never confirmed any role in the US-led invasion of neighbouring Iraq in 2003.
The invasion sparked opposition protests and Jordanian national Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi went on to lead Al-Qaeda in Iraq until he was killed in a June 7, 2006 US air strike near Baquba, north of Baghdad.
Jordanian public opinion had already turned against the jihadists after Zarqawi’s group claimed 2005 suicide bombings against luxury hotels in Amman that killed 60 people.