x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Al Qa'eda infiltrates the CIA

An attack on an Afghan CIA base is both a major blow to the United States' premier intelligence organisation and a serious set back for President Obama's goal of dismantling the al Qa'eda network. The attacker is believed to have been a frequent contributor to jihadi websites and served as the administrator for Al Hesbah, a major al Qa'eda website.

An attack on a CIA base in Afghanistan is not only a major blow to the United States' premier intelligence organisation but a serious set back for President Obama's goal of dismantling the al Qa'eda network. "Homam Khaleel Mohammad Abu Mallal, a Kuwaiti-born medical doctor, was picked by the Jordanian intelligence service to infiltrate al Qa'eda as a foreign jihadist in Afghanistan," The National reported. "Instead, last week, he turned the tables on his recruiters with deadly results. He strapped explosives to his body and blew himself up on Wednesday, killing seven US Central Intelligence Agency officers as well as his Jordanian handler at the CIA's Forward Operating Base Chapman, set in the south-eastern province of Khost." In US media reports, the al Qa'eda agent has been referred to as Humam Khalil Mohammed, Hammam Khalil al-Balawi and Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi. Al Jazeera described Abu Mallal as a 36-year-old doctor from Zarqa, a Jordanian town that also was the home of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the slain leader of al Qa'eda in Iraq. Suha Philip Ma'ayeh reported: "Fouad Hussein, an independent Jordanian analyst who specialises in Islamic movements, said Abu Mallal was a well-known Salafist and a supervisor and writer on the website Al Hesbah. It was shut down last year as part of a cyberwar against al Qa'eda and other terrorist networks. "Mr Hussein said he read an interview with Abu Mallal published in September in a magazine called Talae'al Kharasan (The Cadets of al Kharasan) in which said he wished to 'perform jihad in the land of Kharasan', a reference to Afghanistan. "In the interview he said: 'I have been raised to love jihad and martyrdom since I was little ... I hope to have the honour of [becoming] a jihadi and a martyr. While I was growing up I used to listen to the Quran and wondered if I would continue to love jihad and if I would ask for martyrdom.' He also said he was provoked by the scenes of killing of women and children in the Gaza Strip last year." Newsweek added: "Al Jazeera's Arabic language website, citing unidentified sources as well as a Taliban spokesman, added what may be the most surprising wrinkle of all to the story: the Jordanian doctor is the same person known as 'Abu Dujanah al-Khurasani' - a frequent contributor to jihadi websites who once served as the administrator for the Al Hesbah Forum, a major al Qa'eda website. "The al Jazeera story quotes the Taliban spokesman as saying that the blogger was able to 'mislead US and Jordanian intelligence for a whole year,' adding that the Taliban plans to release a video soon to confirm its account. "There is no way to independently confirm that Balawi and 'Abu Dujinah' is the same person. But Evan Kohlmann, a US government consultant who monitors jihadi web forums, said that many of the details emerging about Balawi - including his age and background - seem to match comments that Abu Dujinah has made on various web postings. There 'are pretty compelling reasons to believe it's the same person,' he said." Newsweek spoke to a former CIA official who said that even if some people at the CIA believed that their recruit could lead them to Zawahiri, it was puzzling that he would have had access to a base with multiple officers. "You never trust a person like that," the former official said. The New York Times, which identified the bomber by the name, Humam Khalil Mohammed, said: "Current and former American officials said Monday that because of Mr Mohammed's medical background, he might have been recruited to find the whereabouts of Ayman al-Zawahri, the Egyptian doctor who is al Qa'eda's second in command. "Agency officers had traveled from Kabul, the Afghan capital, to Khost for a meeting with the informant, a sign that the CIA had come to trust the informant and that it was eager to learn what he might have gleaned from operations in the field, according to a former CIA official with experience in Afghanistan. "The former official said that the fact that militants could carry out a successful attack using a double agent showed their strength even after a steady barrage of missile strikes fired by CIA drone aircraft. " 'Double agent operations are really complex,' he said. 'The fact that they can pull this off shows that they are not really on the run. They have the ability to kick back and think about these things.'" The Wall Street Journal reported: "Senior US military officials believe that the Khost attack was carried out with the active assistance of the Haqqani network, which has mounted dozens of bloody attacks inside Khost that have turned the province into one of the most violent regions of Afghanistan. "US policy makers worry that any territory that falls under Haqqani control in either Afghanistan or Pakistan could quickly become a new safe haven for al Qa'eda, whose senior leaders have known and fought alongside the Haqqani family for decades. The CIA and elite US Special Operations troops have responded to the Haqqani group's offensive in Khost with a stepped-up campaign targeting the militants, and senior officials say more than two dozen Haqqani officials have been killed in recent weeks. "While coordination between the Haqqani network and the Pakistani Taliban is rare, members of both groups have said that they cooperated in the past. 'At times they send suicide attackers to our area, and we give them shelter and find targets for them,' said a former Haqqani commander in an interview this summer." NBC News noted: "Qari Hussain, a top militant commander with the Pakistani Taliban who is believed to be a suicide bombing mastermind, said last week that militants had been searching for a way to damage the CIA's ability to launch missile strikes on the Pakistani side of the border. "Using remote-controlled aircraft, the US has launched scores of such missile attacks in the tribal regions over the past year and a half, aiming for high-value al Qa'eda and other militant targets. The most successful strike, in August, killed former Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud at his father-in-law's home. "The Washington Post reported Friday that the CIA base has been at the heart of overseeing this covert programme. The newspaper cited two former intelligence officials who have visited Chapman as saying that US personnel there are heavily involved in the selection of al Qa'eda and Taliban targets for the drone aircraft strikes."

pwoodward@thenational.ae