The suicide bomber who gained access to a heavily-guarded CIA outpost in Afghanistan last week and blew himself up, killing seven high-ranking US agents in the process, was a Jordanian spy who had supposedly been recruited to infiltrate al-Qa'ida, it was claimed last night.
Intelligence sources identified the attacker as Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, a 36-year-old physician from Zarqa, in Jordan. He had been working undercover with agents at Forward Operating Base Chapman, in the south-east of the country for several weeks.
His relationship with officers there helped al-Balawi bypass security checks, before detonating the device in a crowded gym. It resulted in the biggest death toll experienced by the CIA in a single incident for more than 25 years, while a Jordanian intelligence officer, believed to be his handler, was also killed.
News of the bomber's identity, reported by several US media outlets last night, raises serious questions about the safety of intelligence techniques being used by western spy agencies, who often have difficulty telling friend from foe and allow informants to bypass standard security screening in order to gain their trust.
Al-Balawi apparently agreed to become a Jordanian spy a year ago after being arrested on suspicion of having links to al-Qa'ida. His specific mission in Afghanistan was thought to be tracking down al-Qa'ida's number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri. It now seems that he spent 12 months acting as a double agent, passing information to rebel forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan. A Taliban spokesman quoted on al-Jazeera's website said he'd been spying for the organisation for more than a year.
His perceived importance to the US cause meant that he was picked-up in a car outside Base Chapman, a former Soviet military outpost, and driven through normal security points before mounting Thursday's attack.
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama has summoned his top national security advisers to a White House meeting today, aimed at plugging holes in airport security laid bare by the Christmas Day attack – and fending off charges from Republicans he is neglecting the terrorist threat.
Thanks to the near-miss attempted suicide bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner on 25 December, terrorism has leapt to the top of the political agenda facing the President.