AMMAN // 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. 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.
How a physician and father of two could have done such damage to the United States' top spy agency has raised new questions about the intelligence agency as well as the growing sophistication of its enemy. Barack Obama's top military spy chief in Afghanistan said in a report on Monday posted on the website of the Centre for a New American Security, a Washington think tank, that the United States "still finds itself unable to answer fundamental questions about the environment in which we operate and the people we are trying to protect and persuade".
Major Gen Michael Flynn said in the report he co-wrote with an adviser, Marine Capt Matt Pottinger, and Paul Batchelor of the Defence Intelligence Agency, that the problems US intelligence agencies face in Afghanistan were less environmental than "attitudinal, cultural and human". "Ignorant of local economics and landowners, hazy about who the power brokers are and how they might be influenced, incurious about the correlations between various development projects and the levels of co-operation among villagers, and disengaged from the people in the best position to find answers ? US intelligence officers and analysts can do little but shrug in response to high-level decision-makers seeking the knowledge, analysis and information they need to wage a successful counterinsurgency," the report, titled Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan, said.
"The problem is that these analysts - the core of them bright, enthusiastic and hungry - are starved for information from the field, so starved, in fact, that many say their jobs feel more like fortune telling than serious detective work," the report said. In the case of Abu Mallal, the doctor turned suicide bomber, the fortune telling glossed over a life of contradictions. NBC News, quoting western intelligence officials, reported that the main mission for which Abu Mallal had been recruited was tracking down a fellow doctor, Ayman al Zawahiri, the Egyptian who is al Qa'eda's second in command.
A dossier obtained by The National offered a rare look into the hidden life of a double agent who was also known as Dujjanah al Kharassani, after one of the Prophet Mohammed's companions. Born in Kuwait on Christmas Day 1977, Abu Mallal studied medicine for six years in Turkey at Istanbul University and graduated in 2002. He also received medical training at the University of Jordan Hospital and at the Islamic hospital, run by Jordan's Islamic Brotherhood, in Amman.
He had his membership in the Jordanian Medical Association and medical licence revoked in 2006 because he did not settle his financial obligations, including money owed for dues, his retirement fund, and social security. He was married to Dafinah Bairak and they lived in the lower-income Amman suburb of Jabal Nuzhah. He was detained for several months in prison for having links with al Qa'eda when he was recruited by Jordan's spy agency, the General Intelligence Directorate.
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. Western intelligence officials told NBC that Abu Mallal reportedly called his Jordanian handler, Sharif Ali bin Zeid, last week and said he needed to meet the CIA team because he had important information about al Zawahiri.
Jarret Brachman, author of Global Jihadism: Theory and Practice and a consultant to the US government about terrorism, told The New York Times that Abu Mallal was "one of the most revered authors on the jihadists' forums. He's in the top five jihadists. He's one of the biggest guns out there." "Abu Mallal used to despise himself because he was not a mujahed yet," Mr Hussein said. "Then he decided to act on his thoughts."