WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama told hundreds of CIA employees Friday that the death of seven of their colleagues in a suicide bombing Dec. 30 in Afghanistan was a "summons . . . to carry on their work, to complete this mission, to win this war and to keep our country safe."
Security was tight around the CIA's suburban Washington headquarters as Obama joined agency leaders at a memorial service for the seven — five CIA officers and two contractors — who died when a Jordanian they thought was working for them against al Qaida blew himself up at an outpost outside Khost, Afghanistan.
The bombing, which also killed a Jordanian intelligence officer, was the costliest attack against the agency since a 1983 strike on the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, which took the lives of eight CIA officers.
The memorial service was not on Obama's publicly released schedule, and reporters who made the 14-minute trip with him from the White House to the CIA's sprawling compound at Langley, Va., were not allowed into the ceremony.
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A White House statement released later said that more than 1,000 CIA officers and family of the dead attended. Also in attendance, the statement said, were senior officials from the White House and the Pentagon and several members of Congress, among them House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
The statement said Obama referred to the dead CIA workers as "seven heroes" and thanked their families for their sacrifice.
“Everything you instilled in them — the virtues of service and decency and duty — were on display that December day. That is what you gave them. That is what you gave to America. And our nation will be forever in your debt,” Obama said, according to the White House.
CIA director Leon Panetta said the attack, whose victims included the head of the CIA base in Khost, wouldn't discourage the agency from confronting al Qaida.
"We will carry this fight to the enemy," the White House quoted Panetta as saying. "Our resolve is unbroken, our energy undiminished, and our dedication to each other and to our nation, unshakable."
There was no mention in the White House statement of reports earlier this week that the Pakistani Taliban leader linked to the attack had died from wounds suffered in a U.S. drone strike.
U.S. officials in Afghanistan and news reports in Pakistan said Sunday that Hakimullah Mehsud had died from injuries suffered in attacks that targeted him Jan. 14 and Jan. 17 in Pakistan's North Waziristan region.
The Taliban denied the claim and officials in Washington said they could not confirm it, but U.S. officials in Afghanistan said they believed the reports were true. Mehsud has not been heard from since the reports of his death.
In a video released Jan. 9, Mehsud appeared with the suicide bomber, Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al Balawi, a Jordanian extremist who Jordan's intelligence service believed it had recruited as an agent to penetrate al Qaida.
Instead, Balawi said on the video, he offered his services to the terrorist network as a suicide bomber and reportedly gained access to the top-secret CIA base at Khost with a fake tipoff on the location inside Pakistan's nearby tribal area of al Qaida's No. 2 leader, Ayman al Zawahri.
Balawi said the suicide bombing was retaliation for a U.S. drone strike that killed his predecessor as Taliban leader, Baitullah Mehsud.