The motives of suicide bomber, Human Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi, are coming into focus. A video surfaced on Al Jazeera Saturday morning of al-Balawi, wearing green camouflage, a heavy beard and bearing a weapon in his lap. He was accompanied by the newest leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud.
The Jordanian doctor was keeping with a strong jihadist motive for the December 30th bombing at Forward Operating Base Chapman, in Khost Province. The motive was revealed as a revenge strike for the August 2009 killing of Baitullah Mehsud. It’s thought that the video was shot on December 20th, ten days before the attack that killed seven CIA operatives and one Jordanian officer.
An English translation of Mr. Balawi’s words from the video are: “We will never forget the blood of our Emir Baitullah Mehsud, God’s mercy upon him.” Another quote from the supposed double-agent clearly reinforces the idea that he never really was a turncoat for the Americans.
“The jihadist who follows God’s way does not put his religion up for auction. And the Jihadist who follows God does not sell his religion, even if they put the sun to his right side and the moon to his left side.” (The New York Times-Bomber Who Killed C.I.A. Officers Appears in Video-by Stephen Farrell-January 10, 2010.
This is a clear slap in the face for the notion that he took the bait of money from Jordan’s General Intelligence Directorate (GID) or the CIA.
There have been allegations that al-Balawi was offered as much as $500,000 by the CIA and $100,000 by the Jordanians to provide significant intelligence about Al Qaeda leadership while in Pakistan. Somehow he was able to deceive them into believing he had changed sides. (Newsweek-The Bomber’s Wife-by Adem Demir and Christopher Dickey-Jan 7, 2010)
It’s not clear to reporters in the know, like Nic Robertson at CNN, why al-Balawi would want to martyr himself for Baitullah Mehsud, a Pakistani Taliban figure. Previously, his primary grievance had been against the Israelis after they launched an attack on Hamas in the Gaza strip.
A cause that provided a greater motivation for him must have emerged at some point. A pivotal moment may have been when he was arrested in Amman, Jordan. The cause of the arrest was because of his inflammatory jihadist blog postings.
He was held for two weeks by the GID last January but was released for unspecified reasons. This must have been the time when an agreement was struck to work as a double agent. He went to Pakistan then and his trail gets somewhat murky.
Mr. Balawi must have been in Pakistan when Emir Baitullah Mehsud was killed by a drone strike last August. Mehsud had a lot to do with uniting the efforts of the Taliban with Al Qaeda. The loss of Mehsud must have made a strong impression on al-Balawi. A conversion may have taken place at this juncture (August of 2009).
But to connect the dots, Al Qaeda used Mehsud to prop up their cause in Pakistan, providing money and muscle to carry out his attacks. It’s thought that Mehsud was behind the assassination of Benazir Bhutto too. His death left a vacuum in the Taliban leadership and al-Balawi must have seen an opening. (The New York Times-Taliban Leader in Pakistan Is Reportedly Killed-August 8, 2009)
I believe that it’s clear that the Taliban and Al Quaeda are working together in this case. What’s not so clear is whether al-Balawi was acting freely and without coercion from the Taliban.. If this is so, then he never really changed in any way from his earlier beliefs. Somehow the doctor tricked the Americans and Jordanians into thinking he had switched his alliance. But was someone pushing his button?
The brother of al-Balawi, Asad Khalil Abu-al-Balawi, has told CNN that his actions were “out of character.” The brother sensed that he was “under pressure.” Asad is suggesting that coercion may have been involved. The wife, Defne Bayrak, disagrees.
Bayrak says that it is inconsistent with his beliefs that he would suddenly switch sides and become a ‘counterterrorism intelligence agent’ for the U.S. He had always promulgated anti-west rhetoric in his writings. I believe he conceived this plot once he was in Pakistan and noticed that the Jordanians were buying his spiel.
Bayrak told reporters, “I am proud of my husband. My husband accomplished a very big operation in such a war. If he is a martyr, may God accept his martyrdom.” Defne Bayrak is noticeably anti-American herself. I can not quite understand her exact belief systems though. (CNN.com-CIA suicide attacker’s wife ‘shocked’ but proud-1/8/2010)
The exact reasons as to why CIA operatives and the Jordanian, Capt. Sharif Ali bin Zaid, believed that al-Balawi had rehabilitated from his consistently extremist views are unclear. This was a major miscalculation on their part. If this were a chess game, al-Balawi could quickly utter from heaven, “checkmate!”
Mistakes were made. I’m sure they’re alert now. But more risk is involved if they hope to penetrate the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Nic Robertson, a CNN reporter on top of this story, said today that an increase of symbiosis and connectivity exists now between the Taliban and Al Qaeda. (Just a theory, but) Al-Balawi got caught up in a web of intrigue that was impossible to untangle.
Furthermore, CNN reported this morning the possibility that the CIA attack was coordinated with the Northwest Airline bombing attempt by the Nigerian passenger Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab. The latter occurred on December 25th, the former on December 30th. Coincidental that they were so close together?
This has been suggested as a possibility by IntelCenter, a terrorist thinktank. The two groups that would be tied together are: the Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Yemen-based group of Al Qaeda that covers the Arabian Peninsula. (CNN.com-CIA ‘suicide bomber’ vows revenge in new video-1/9/2010)
It’s a troubling that someone as clever as this Jordanian doctor would have moved to the Jihadist front of the Afghanistan/Pakistan border region. As we increase our presence in the region, with both more ground troops and CIA covert operations, the Taliban and Al Qaeda are equally refining their methods.
The intelligence-gathering apparatus of the CIA took a major hit on December 30th. With seven agents killed that day, this was the greatest loss of life for the agency since the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon. Eight agents were killed in Beirut. But why was our guard so down? Why wasn’t al-Balawi searched? And why do we so trust the Jordanians (GID)?
Anti-American sentiment in Jordan is very high. A requisite investigation into the leanings of the Jordanians is needed also. The CIA will not be less able to rely on them in the future. Was Sharif ali bin Zaid perhaps in cahoots with al-Balawi? Why wasn’t he suspicious of him? Balawi never did change his high-flung Jihadist rhetoric. Did Zaid and the CIA think he was black-sheeping this venom? Indeed, the whole affair is very puzzling.