Details emerge on CIA base attacker

Afghan blast kills 4 youths

Relatives carried the body of a boy killed in a blast yesterday in Afghanistan. The government said the explosion occurred when a passing police vehicle hit a planted mine. Relatives carried the body of a boy killed in a blast yesterday in Afghanistan. The government said the explosion occurred when a passing police vehicle hit a planted mine.
(Rahmat Gul/Associated Press)
By Stephen Farrell
New York Times / January 7, 2010

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AMMAN, Jordan - The telephone rang at 7 a.m. on New Year’s Eve, and then the heavily accented voice of a stranger - possibly an Afghan - told the man who answered what had happened to one of his sons who disappeared a year ago.

“They said that Humam had made a big operation against the CIA,’’ said a brother of Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi, the 32-year-old Jordanian of Palestinian heritage who killed seven Americans at a remote outpost in Afghanistan last week.

“He is a hero,’’ the caller said, according to the brother.

It was only later that day, when the family learned more details about the deaths of the CIA operatives, that the bomber’s family became certain that Balawi, a doctor, was not, as they thought, tending to sick and injured Palestinians in Gaza but was at the center of a complex espionage operation that backfired to deadly effect.

Western government officials say Balawi was recruited by Jordanian intelligence agents and taken to Afghanistan to infiltrate Al Qaeda by posing as a foreign jihadi. Instead he attended a meeting with the CIA and blew himself up, killing seven Americans and his Jordanian supervisor, a distant cousin of King Abdullah II.

Meanwhile in eastern Afghanistan yesterday, the Associated Press reported that an explosion tore through a group of children gathered around foreign soldiers visiting a US-funded road project. Four children and a policeman died, and scores were wounded, including at least three American soldiers, officials said.

The Afghan Interior Ministry said in a statement that the blast in Nangrahar Province occurred when a passing police vehicle hit a mine. The ministry called it a terrorist act, implying the mine had been planted by insurgents.

Details about Balawi and his operation are slowly emerging, with a Jordanian official here saying that Balawi had traveled to Pakistan and from there began volunteering information by e-mail “on Al Qaeda and its planned operations in Jordan and other nations.’’

“He was engaged in an empathetic and friendly way,’’ the official added, “with a view to trying to verify the information.’’

The official declined to identify the value of Balawi’s communications, saying only that “he provided information that warranted attention, that we thought was worthy of looking into.’’ The Jordanian intelligence services shared that information with other countries, he said, including the United States.

Balawi’s father, Khalil, said last night that he was still confused by conflicting reports about what had happened to his son. “We don’t have any information,’’ he said, as he returned home in the Nuzha district here in Jordan’s capital. “Everything we hear is contradictory.’’

The brother described Balawi as a “brilliant doctor,’’ saying that the family knew nothing of Balawi’s writings under a pseudonym on jihadi websites. He said, however, that his brother had been “changed’’ by last year’s three-week Israeli offensive in Gaza, which killed about 1,300 Palestinians.

The brother said that Balawi was arrested by Jordanian authorities after volunteering with medical organizations to treat wounded Palestinians in Gaza. The family is itself of Palestinian origin, from a tribe in the Beersheba region.

He voiced no criticism of his brother’s actions, instead blaming unnamed people who he felt had pushed his brother to act. “If you catch a cat and put it in a corner, she will jump on you,’’ the brother said.