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Source: CIA bomber’s intel led to successes

The suspected double-agent who killed eight people on a CIA base in Afghanistan was coerced into helping Jordan's spy agency track down al-Qaida's No. 2 leader, officials say.
/ Source: NBC, and news services

The suspected double agent who killed seven CIA employees last week in Afghanistan had provided information that led the CIA to kill a number of al-Qaida leaders, a former senior intelligence official said Tuesday.

The former official said Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi had provided high-quality intelligence that established his credibility with Jordanian and U.S. intelligence.

The former official says that information led to drone-launched missiles strikes. CBS News first reported al-Balawi's connection to the missile strikes.

The attack at a CIA post in Afghanistan came after al-Balawi claimed he had information on Osama bin Laden's top deputy.

The former official was not authorized to discuss the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Jordanian was recruited by his country's intelligence agency after it threw him in jail to coerce him into helping track down al-Qaida's No. 2 leader, counterterrorism officials in the Middle East said Tuesday.

Western intelligence officials told NBC News that Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi turned against his Jordanian intelligence recruiters and instead struck the CIA base near the Pakistani border last week, killing seven CIA employees and his Jordanian recruiter, Ali bin Zeid, a relative of Jordan's King Abdullah II.

NBC News reported Tuesday that two of the CIA personnel killed in the suicide bomb attack were CIA contractors employed by the private security company, Xe, formerly known as Blackwater. The two have been identified as Dane Paresi and Jerry Wise.

Three Middle Eastern counterterrorism officials said 32-year-old physician al-Balawi was jailed for three days after he signed up for a humanitarian mission to the Gaza Strip with a Jordanian field hospital following Israel's offensive there. At that time, authorities were aware that al-Balawi had posted fiery writings on militant Web sites, calling on Muslims to join a holy war against Israel and the United States.

The officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment on an operation involving the CIA.

The Jordanian Intelligence Directorate wanted al-Balawi, who was respected among al-Qaida and other militants for his Web writings, to help them and their CIA allies capture or kill al-Zawahri, Osama bin Laden's right-hand man, according to a counterterrorism official based in the Middle East.

Another counterterrorism official in the Middle East confirmed the account of al-Balawi's jailing and said his allegiance was to al-Qaida from the start — not with his Jordanian recruiters or their CIA friends — and never wavered. He also spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on an operation involving the CIA.

The other counterterrorism officials gave identical accounts of how and when al-Balawi was recruited.

Jordanian intelligence thought he had been persuaded to support U.S. and Jordanian efforts against al-Qaida.

On Dec. 30, al-Balawi was invited to Camp Chapman, a tightly secured CIA forward base in Khost province on the fractious Afghan-Pakistan frontier, according to a former senior U.S. intelligence official and a foreign government official.

He was not searched for bombs when he got into the camp, according to former and current U.S. intelligence officials. He detonated the explosive shortly after his debriefing began, according to one of the former intelligence officials. He killed seven CIA employees.

Al-Balawi's family and friends told the Associated Press that 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.

Embarrassment for JordanThe 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 CIA also has declined to confirm that al-Balawi was responsible for the attack.

''The CIA is looking at every aspect of the attack," a spokesman told NBC News. "Broadcasting what we know to the enemy in time of war is a bad idea."

The circumstances surrounding the death of bin Zeid, 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.

Bomber described as 'brilliant'"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.

More than a year ago, al-Balawi was arrested by Jordanian intelligence. He had moderated the main al-Qaida chat forum before his arrest and was known online as Abu Dujanah al-Khurasani.

“Abu Dujanah was an active member of jihadi forums,” said Evan Kohlmann, who tracks jihadi Web sites for NBC News. “He was actually an administrator on the now-defunct Al-Hesbah forum, previously al-Qaida's main chat forum.”

After he arrived in Afghanistan last year, al-Balawi was interviewed by one of al-Qaida’s main Internet sites, the Vanguards of Khurasan, on the subject of martyrdom.

“When you ponder the verses and hadiths that speak about jihad and its graciousness, and then you let your imagination run wild to fly with what Allah has prepared for martyrs, your life become cheap for its purpose, and the extravagant houses and expensive cars and all the decoration of life become very distasteful in your eyes,” he told the interviewer.

He added, “They say 'there's love that kills.' And I only see that as truthful in the love for jihad, as this love is either going to kill you in repentance should you choose to sit away from jihad, or will kill you as a martyr for the cause of Allah if you choose to go to Jihad, and the human must choose between these two deaths.”

The Chapman base was used to direct and coordinate CIA operations and intelligence gathering in Khost, a hotbed of insurgent activity because of its proximity to Pakistan's lawless tribal areas, former CIA officials said. Among the CIA officers killed was the chief of the operation, they said.

Six other people were wounded in what was one of the worst attacks in CIA history.