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By Charles Lam
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A year after his arrest in the Middle East, an Anaheim computer engineer is hoping his hunger strike will force Jordanian authorities to either free him or charge him in a high-profile terrorist case.
According to U.S. and Jordanian officials, Khalil Deek worked for terrorist Osama bin Laden, helping the wealthy businessman plan an attack on U.S. and Israeli targets in Jordan. The attack, allegedly planned for New Year's Eve 1999, never came off, and Deek—still awaiting trial in a prison cell outside Jordan's second-largest city of Zarqa—has yet to be charged with any specific crime.
A Palestinian by birth, Deek holds both Jordanian and U.S. citizenship. After more than a decade of mundane life in Anaheim—where he still has relatives—Deek moved to Pakistan two years ago and founded a computer business in the city of Peshawar. He was arrested at his home there in January 2000 and flown by police to Jordan. Although he was netted along with nearly 30 other suspected terrorists, Jordanian authorities concede that Deek is the only defendant yet to see a courtroom. All but a handful of the others were convicted last August. Deek has steadfastly maintained his innocence.
Despite a brief flurry of high-profile news stories early last year that labeled Deek a major terrorist, the media's interest quickly waned. Since July, the Weekly has apparently been the only local newspaper to follow the story or to raise any questions about Deek's guilt (see "The Terrorist Next Door," July 14, 2000).
With the world gradually forgetting him, Deek's relatives in Jordan and Orange County say he has reached a crucial decision: he'll starve himself unless Jordanian authorities either prosecute him or drop the charges.
"He is threatening a hunger strike," confirmed Adel Deek, Khalil's older brother, in a telephone interview from his house in Amman. "I support him because I think it is necessary to get people to see his situation in another light."
Deek added that he and other relatives have made repeated, unsuccessful efforts to get the U.S. embassy in Jordan to speed his brother's case. "Khalil is an American citizen, but after 12 months in jail, there is nobody who cares about him—not your government or mine," Adel Deek said. "He is a human being, but he is still locked up with no charge. If he is guilty, why don't they send him to court?"
The Jordanian embassy in Washington, D.C., failed to respond to several requests for comment. A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs told the Weekly that her agency can't comment on the case because Deek has yet to be formally charged with a crime. "The Bureau of Consular Affairs has extended to [Deek] all the consular services we normally provide to U.S. citizens who are arrested abroad," she said. "We are continuing to monitor the case and are fully confident in the ability of Jordan to carry out its investigation and judicial process in an appropriate manner and time line."
That statement doesn't sit well with Deek's family or with Younis Arab, a Jordanian attorney the Deeks hired to represent him.
"At this point, I can say the American embassy doesn't do what it should do for one of its citizens," Arab said. "At the beginning, we had a relationship with the embassy, but only until we were able to visit Khalil in jail. After that, there has been no relationship."
Tawfiq Deek, Khalil's younger brother, a chemical engineer who lives in Anaheim, said he has sent letters to Representatives Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach), asking them to pressure the U.S. embassy in Jordan to monitor Deek's case. Both politicians received letters from the embassy simply confirming that Deek is a U.S. citizen awaiting trial in Jordan.
"It looks like the embassy is trying to sleep on it," Tawfiq Deek concluded. "U.S. citizens who are naturalized and then arrested outside the country aren't given the attention they deserve as Americans. If Khalil was born in Florida or something, the situation would be much different."
Arab said that while Jordan's general prosecutor's office insists it intends to try Deek, it has repeatedly postponed his trial without providing any explanation for the delay. "They say they are busy and can't hear his case, but that isn't true," Arab said. "They say they are still collecting evidence, but they don't have any. I call them every 15 days and ask what is happening, and every 15 days, they just renew his time in jail."
According to Arab, the Jordanian government has so far only handed his client four informal charges: membership in bin Laden's terrorist organization, possession and manufacture of explosive material (two separate charges), and conspiracy to attack Christian and Jewish targets in Jordan. "For this, there is no evidence," Arab asserted. "It is logical that you would find bombs or materials relating to bombs in his house, but they didn't."
What authorities did find in Deek's Peshawar home was a computer disk containing a version of a book called Encyclopedia Jihad, a sort of Islamic Anarchist Cookbook. But it's available at any market in the Middle East. While the book does contain information about bomb-making, it is perfectly legal to possess—even in countries like Jordan where freedom of expression is hardly an age-old tradition.