CIA suicide bomber appears in video with Pakistani Taliban leader


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistani officials fear that a video that appears to link the suicide bomber who struck a CIA base in Afghanistan
just over a week ago to the Pakistani Taliban will prompt the Obama
administration to step up pressure on them to take more aggressive
action against extremists and intensify U.S. drone attacks on targets
in Pakistan.

In the video, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban,
Hakimullah Mehsud, is sitting alongside the attacker, Jordanian Humam
Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi, with automatic weapons on their laps,
against a dark backdrop and an Islamic verse. The video appears to
indicate that the Pakistani Taliban played a significant role in the
attack on the U.S. base and to provide new evidence of the Pakistani
group’s ties to al-Qaida.

In a fiery posthumous message, al-Balawi said he was
acting against Jordanian intelligence and the CIA, and to avenge the
death of the previous Pakistani Taliban chief, Baitullah Mehsud, who
was killed by a U.S. missile strike in his native South Waziristan last

“We say that we will never forget the blood of our
Emir (leader) Baitullah Mehsud, God’s mercy on him,” al-Balawi said in
Arabic in the video, which was broadcast on Al Jazeera, the Middle
Eastern channel, and other stations. “To retaliate for his death in the United States and outside the United States will remain an obligation on all emigrants who were harbored by Baitullah Mehsud.”

In a version of the video clip that was screened on
Pakistani television, al-Balawi said in English that he was offered
“millions of dollars” to work for the CIA.

Al-Balawi was a double agent, a jihadist who’d been
recruited by Jordanian intelligence to assist the CIA in its hunt for
al-Qaida leaders who are thought to be based in Pakistan’s tribal areas near the Afghan border.

U.S. and Jordanian intelligence officers thought he’d turned against the militants, but he blew himself up Dec. 30 inside a U.S. base in Khost, Afghanistan, just across the border from Pakistan,
where intelligence officers were collecting intelligence on Afghan and
Pakistani militants and on al-Qaida, and using some of it to target
missile strikes by pilotless drone aircraft. The blast killed seven CIA
officers, including the base chief.

The drone attacks have intensified since the bombing
in Khost, with the seventh missile strike since the suicide bombing
coming Saturday in North Waziristan, part of the tribal area and a
region where Washington is pressing Pakistan to launch an offensive.

North Waziristan is a refuge for the Taliban and
al-Qaida, as well as for the Haqqani network, which is considered the
most dangerous Afghan insurgent group and was a major target of the
bombed CIA base.

The Pakistani Taliban, the Afghan Taliban and
al-Qaida all have claimed responsibility for the Khost bombing, while
some U.S. and Pakistani officials suspect that the Haqqani network was

“It is not as if a smoking gun has been produced. He
was a double agent. He had to meet these people (Hakimullah Mehsud) to
establish his credentials,” said a senior Pakistani security official,
speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the
issue. “Why, all of a sudden, is this video produced? Pakistan is being implicated for actions later on.”

Pakistan launched
a military offensive against Hakimullah Mehsud’s group in South
Waziristan in October, but Mehsud and his followers appear to have fled
to North Waziristan or other parts of the tribal area.

Pakistan so far has resisted pressure from Washington to expand the operation to North Waziristan, saying it can’t open too many fronts. Some critics have suggested that Pakistan
doesn’t want to take on the Haqqani network, which uses North
Waziristan and historically has been close to the country’s security

The CIA has been criticized for allowing al-Balawi
onto the base in Khost without being searched, a violation of security
protocols in Afghanistan
and also what in intelligence parlance is called “tradecraft,” which
holds that meetings with agents such as al-Balawi should be limited to
one or perhaps two CIA officers and never held in agency stations or

Intelligence officials in Washington
said it appears that whoever recruited, trained and directed al-Balawi
practiced good tradecraft, however. He provided accurate information on
lower-ranking jihadists — perhaps political rivals, men suspected of
disloyalty or otherwise expendable — to establish credibility with his
Jordanian and CIA case officers, then baited his trap by suggesting
that he had intelligence on a high-value target, bin Laden’s top
lieutenant, Ayman Zawahiri.

CIA Director Leon Panetta defended his officers in a piece to be published Sunday in The Washington Post.

“This was not a question of trusting a potential
intelligence asset, even one who had provided information that we could
verify independently. It is never that simple, and no one ignored the
hazards. The individual was about to be searched by our security
officers — a distance away from other intelligence personnel — when he
set off his explosives,” Panetta wrote.

(c) 2010, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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