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The Jordanian doctor who killed seven CIA employees in a suicide attack in Afghanistan said in video clips broadcast posthumously Saturday that all jihadists must attack U.S. targets to avenge the death of Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud.
Footage showed Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi — whom the CIA had cultivated as an asset against al-Qaida — sitting with Mehsud’s successor in an undisclosed location. It essentially confirmed the Pakistani Taliban’s claim of responsibility for one of the worst attacks in CIA history, though a senior militant told The Associated Press that al-Qaida and Afghan insurgents played roles, too.
The development may lead the U.S. to further push Pakistan to crack down on Afghan and Pakistani Taliban militants who use its tribal regions along the Afghan border as safe havens. It also could prompt even more U.S. missile strikes in the country — already on the upswing — something a Pakistani intelligence official urged the Americans to avoid.
Speaking in Arabic in the video shown on the al-Jazeera network, al-Balawi noted the Pakistani Taliban had given shelter to “emigrants” — Muslim fighters from abroad. Mehsud, the group’s longtime leader, was killed in August by a CIA missile strike.
“We will never forget the blood of our emir Baitullah Mehsud,” said al-Balawi, who wore an Afghan hat and a camouflage jacket on a 1 1/2 minute video clip. “We will always demand revenge for him inside America and outside. It is an obligation of the emigrants who were welcomed by the emir.”
A similar clip appeared on the Pakistani channel Aaj, though in it al-Balawi read haltingly from a piece of paper in English, a language Pakistanis are more familiar with than Arabic.
The 32-year-old al-Balawi was apparently a double agent — perhaps even a triple-agent — with links to al-Qaida, the CIA and Jordanian intelligence. He was invited inside the CIA facility in Afghanistan’s eastern Khost province bearing a promise of information about Ayman al-Zawahri, al-Qaida’s second-in-command. Instead, he blew himself up in a Dec. 30 meeting, killing seven including the CIA’s base chief.
In the Arabic clip, al-Balawi appeared to mock assertions that U.S. or Jordanian intelligence had employed him. In the English version, he said he had given up millions of dollars offered by the agencies to join the militants.
“The emigrant for the sake of God will not put his religion on the bargaining table and will not sell his religion even if they put the sun in his right hand and the moon in his left,” he said in Arabic, referring to a verse in the Quran.
Al-Balawi ended by saying the Pakistani Taliban under the leadership of the new chief, Hakimullah Mehsud, would fight till victory.
In Jordan, al-Balawi’s father confirmed the man on the clip was his son.
“He was very opposed to what was happening in Iraq, the occupation of Palestine and the killings of Muslims in Afghanistan,” a downbeat Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi said. “We knew he was very zealous for God and his religion.”
IntelCenter, a U.S.-based group monitoring extremist sites, said the video was released by the Pakistani Taliban. Behind Hakimullah Mehsud and al-Balawi was a banner bearing the Muslim creed, “There is no god but God, and Muhammad is His messenger.”
The CIA attack would be the most prolific strike on a U.S. target by the Pakistani Taliban under the 20-something Hakimullah Mehsud’s watch. It is also unusual because the Pakistani Taliban rarely claim responsibility for strikes in Afghanistan.
But statements by Afghan Taliban and al-Qaida leaders since the attack have confused the issue of who backed the plan, and it appears increasingly likely it was a joint operation.
A Pakistani Taliban militant told AP that al-Qaida and the Haqqani network, a highly independent Afghan Taliban faction, also were involved in the suicide attack. Al-Balawi received training from Qari Hussain, a leading commander of the Pakistani Taliban believed to have run suicide bombing camps, said the militant, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of security reasons.
In an earlier interview with AP, Hussain claimed responsibility on behalf of the Pakistani Taliban for the attack.
Mahmood Shah, a former security chief for Pakistan’s tribal regions, said the Pakistani Taliban likely provided logistics to the bomber, but al-Qaida probably provided the recruit himself.
That’s because the terror network is more able to tap into a reservoir of educated Arab militants, said Shah, who added al-Qaida may have formulated the overall plot as well. The Haqqani network likely gave consent because it controls much of Khost, he said.
A major Pakistani army offensive in South Waziristan tribal region is believed to have forced many Pakistani Taliban leaders to go on the run to other parts of the lawless tribal belt along the Afghan border. Hakimullah Mehsud, for instance, is believed to be evading the Pakistani military offensive by hiding somewhere along the border dividing South and North Waziristan tribal regions.
Though the group initially appeared to be in disarray after the August missile strike and the offensive, it and linked militant groups are suspected in a rising tide of violence in Pakistan. More than 600 people have died in a range of suicide and other bombings across the nuclear-armed country since October.
The release of the al-Balawi footage gives the U.S. proof that Pakistani elements are involved in attacks on its security apparatus in Afghanistan, observers said. Already since the CIA attack, the U.S. has accelerated its use of drone-fired missiles to take out militant targets in Pakistan’s tribal regions. At least five such strikes have hit North Waziristan, where the Haqqanis have strongholds.
“I believe that (the missile strikes) will accelerate more, and they will put pressure on Pakistan’s government to not only take action in South Waziristan, but also take army action in North Waziristan,” said Rahimullah Yousafzai, a Pakistani journalist.
The secretive eastern Afghan CIA base that was attacked was reportedly used as a key outpost in the effort to identify and target terrorist leaders taken out by the missile strikes.
In a call to The AP on Saturday, a senior Pakistani intelligence official warned the Americans not to read too much into the video, saying it should not lead to expanded missile strikes. He said the U.S. should view the attack as an intelligence failure on its part, and stressed al-Balawi may have simply made the video to prove his credentials to the militants.
Pakistan publicly condemns the missile strikes as violations of its sovereignty, though analysts believe it secretly aids them.
Youssef reported from Cairo. Associated Press writers Jamal Halaby in Amman, Jordan, and Kathy Gannon in Islamabad contributed to this report.