Page last updated at 22:42 GMT, Thursday, 7 January 2010

Al-Qaeda complicates US-Jordan security relationship

By Katya Adler
BBC News, Amman

Abdullah says the militant who killed CIA agents was a martyr

It was night time when we arrived in Amman's crowded southern suburbs.

The man we had come to meet said he wanted to be referred to as Abdullah, a Muslim and one of God's fighters.

He has been in prison here, charged with recruiting Jordanians for al-Qaeda.

Last week a Jordanian militant - named as Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi - was suspected of killing seven US agents at a CIA base in Afghanistan in Afghanistan in a suicide attack.

Abdullah's praise for the bomber was predictable. He told me there were lots of people in Jordan who would like to do the same thing.

America's policy in the Middle East is to blame

He described the bomber as a martyr and said he would love to do what he did.

Abdullah said it was not hard to recruit people for al-Qaeda's cause.

"America's policy in the Middle East is to blame," he said.

'Double agent'

The alleged bomber of the CIA agents worked in Zarqa, a poor, sprawling suburb, north of Amman, where al-Qaeda's former head in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, grew up.

Mr Balawi was arrested in Zarqa - it is not clear exactly when - by Jordan's spy agency, the General Intelligence Directorate.

Zarqa suburb
The suspected bomber of the CIA base worked in a poor suburb of Amman

His sister told me Mr Balawi was dedicated to his family and his work as a doctor in a Palestinian refugee camp in Zarqa.

She could not believe he would carry out such a violent act.

Jordanian officials suspected him of having links to al-Qaeda, but then he began working for the government - they thought - as a double agent inside the militant organisation in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Jordanian officials told us they had passed information he had provided on to the US.

Jordan has been pursuing al-Qaeda aggressively for years. It co-operates closely with American and other intelligence agencies.

The Jordanian government has been keeping tight-lipped about the attack on the CIA agents.

For one thing, a member of the powerful royal family was killed alongside the American agents.

He was a liaison officer between the Jordanian and American secret services. It has been suggested that he was Mr Balawi's handler.

'Two-way street'

Gen Ali Shukri, who was an advisor to the royal family for more than two decades, told me US-Jordanian ties go back to the late 1950s.

Funeral of a member of Jordan's royal family killed alongside with CIA agents
A member of Jordan's royal family was also killed in the attack

Washington is Jordan's biggest donor. In exchange, the US gets a key strategic ally, straddling Israel, the Palestinian territories, Iraq and Syria.

The general believes the bond is unbreakable, regardless of the apparent dramatic intelligence failure in Afghanistan.

"It's a two way street. The help is mutual," he told me.

He said mistakes happen even in the best intelligence agencies and, he assured me, Jordan's Intelligence Directorate was one of the very best.

The general said Jordan had gained its expertise in fighting extremists by suffering violent attacks for years, particularly in the 1970s.

As a Middle Eastern nation, he said, Jordan had an understanding of Islamic militants that the US could not acquire itself.

Across the Arab world, pro-Western countries jockey to prove their value to Washington in exchange for financial aid and security guarantees.

'Untenable' position

Moin Rabani, a political analyst in Jordan, says Saudi Arabia has the Opec connection, Egypt is key in trying to establish peace between Palestinians and Israelis, and Jordan has the counter-terrorism card.

Still, Jordanian officials say, it is not just about renting out Jordan's intelligence expertise to Washington.

Jordan believes organisations like al-Qaeda are a serious threat.

But, by co-operating so closely with the West, a number of governments and ruling parties in the Middle East are becoming more of a target for Islamic extremist groups.

By co-operating with the enemy, says Abdullah the Islamic fighter, those Arab states become the enemy.

Jordan's position is an uncomfortable - some argue untenable - one.

It is a prominent Muslim Middle Eastern nation whose policies are pro-Western, but whose people view the US with suspicion, some even with violent hatred.

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