WASHINGTON – A Jordanian informant suspected of a suicide bombing that killed seven CIA officers in Afghanistan last week was ranked the agency's best lead on Al-Qaeda in years, the New York Times said on Wednesday.
Citing US intelligence officials, the Times said the Jordanian man was thought to have information about top Al-Qaeda members, including the whereabouts of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the organisation's number two.
In fact, the Central Intelligence Agency was so enthusiastic about the information Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi might offer that top officials at the CIA and White House were told he was being brought to Afghanistan for a meeting.
But instead of offering some of the tips the United States has sought for years, Balawi detonated an explosives belt in the middle of a US base in Khost, killing seven CIA operatives.
The Times reported that Balawi's background as a radical Islamist was known to both Jordanian and US intelligence but that the two agencies believed he had been persuaded to turn on his former colleagues.
"This was one of the agency's most promising efforts," a senior intelligence official told the paper on condition of anonymity.
Balawi had established his credibility by feeding his Jordanian supervisor a series of tips about Al-Qaeda that checked out and built up so much trust with Jordanian and US intelligence that he was not properly searched when he entered Forward Operating Base Chapman for a meeting with CIA operatives.
While working as an informant, he had contributed anti-American essays to jihadist websites under the name Abu Dujana al-Khorasan, purportedly to maintain contacts and gather information.
But officials told the newspaper that the views he expressed online turned out to represent his real beliefs.
Relatives told AFP that Balawi had been radicalised by the devastating offensive which Israel launched on Gaza in December 2008.
"The Israeli military operation in Gaza affected Humam and he wanted to join doctors of the Jordan Medical Association as a volunteer and go to Gaza," said his brother asking for his given name to be withheld.
"Humam was angry because of the crimes committed by Israel in Gaza.
"In February, he told us he was going to Turkey, but his Turkish wife has not seen him and we have not heard from him ... not even a call, or mail," he added.
"We thought he was in Gaza, We were worried."
The attack was the deadliest against the CIA since 1983.
It has been followed by a barrage of criticism of the CIA, including from the top US military intelligence official in Afghanistan, who accused the agency of poor intelligence-gathering.
© AFP 2013