One Degree of Separation

Whether he knew it or not, Khalil Deek had close ties to bin Laden

A U.S. citizen and former Orange County resident named Khalil Deek once shared a Pakistani bank account with Abu Zubaydah, a man suspected of being involved in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., and now believed to be in hiding with Osama bin Laden somewhere in Afghanistan.

As the Weekly previously reported, Deek, a former computer engineer and licensed pilot, was born in Palestine and emigrated to the U.S. in 1980. Five years after becoming a U.S. citizen in 1991, he moved to Peshawar, Pakistan, just across the Afghan border. That's where Deek apparently became friends with Zubaydah.

On Sept. 24, Zubaydah's name was added to a list of individuals and organizations targeted by the U.S. government in connection with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Authorities first identified Zubaydah when he was linked to Deek and bin Laden in December 1999, when Pakistani and Jordanian officials apparently thwarted a millennium-eve plot to blow up tourist and Christian-pilgrimage sites in Jordan.

Pakistani authorities raided Deek's home in Peshawar on Dec. 11 of that year. Describing him as bin Laden's travel agent, they flew him to a Jordanian prison, along with 27 other Pakistani and Jordanian suspects. All but a handful of the men were convicted; six were sentenced to death. In May 2001, Jordanian authorities released Deek, who apparently cooperated with his captors and helped decipher computer records pertaining to the terrorist plot.

Besides Deek, only one other suspect managed to evade prosecution: the group's alleged mastermind, Zubaydah, whom U.S. and Jordanian authorities have described as bin Laden's CEO. Even as police escorted Deek to his Jordanian prison cell, Zubaydah apparently fled across the border to Afghanistan and hasn't been heard from since.

Meanwhile, Deek has steadfastly maintained his innocence, saying that while he knew Zubaydah and other suspects, he had no idea they were planning terrorist attacks. Although it was reported in newspapers around the world that police found bomb-making materials in Deek's home, that turned out to be a computerized copy of Encyclopedia Jihad. Although unsavory—like the infamous Anarchist's Cookbook, the book provides details on bomb-making, sniper tactics and assassinations—it's perfectly legal to own and widely available in the Middle East.

While in prison, Deek claimed that a Pakistani informant set him up by sending him the Encyclopedia Jihad disk and asking him to copy it. He admitted that he shared a joint bank account in Peshawar with Abu Zubaydah but, in a February 2000 interview with Newsweek magazine, claimed he arranged the account with Zubaydah on behalf of a friend who was divorcing his wife and wanted Deek's help in hiding the money.

Nonetheless, Deek's connection to Zubaydah, now one of the most wanted men in the world, has contributed mightily to suspicions that Deek himself is a terrorist—or at least was aware of terrorist activities. Meanwhile, there are also mounting—although hardly conclusive—suspicions that Deek was involved in supporting terrorist groups long before he moved to Pakistan.

In the 1980s, Deek was active with the Southern California chapter of the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP), a religious nonprofit group that describes itself as a fund-raising organization for Middle Eastern humanitarian causes, including orphanages in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. According to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), however, the IAP is a "front group" for the radical Palestinian terrorist group Hamas. IAP officials have publicly denied that claim for years, saying the FBI's attitude toward Arab-American groups is a shameful vestige of the McCarthy era. Indeed, while the IAP has been openly critical of U.S. support for Israel, the group is equally well-known for hosting annual benefit dinners in Los Angeles that are hosted by mainstream Arab-American celebrities, including Kasey Kasem.

Yet, as with Khalil Deek himself, suspicions about the IAP's ties to terrorism seem to be growing stronger every day. On Sept. 24, CBS News reported that two days earlier, federal agents arrested a man in Texas named Ghassan Dahduli, who refused to answer questions about the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.

"Dahduli once worked for the Islamic Association for Palestine," CBS anchor Dan Rather reported. Within hours of Dahludi's arrest, he added, "a federal grand jury demanded records from the IAP and its sister group, the Holy Land Foundation. They were founded and funded by this man: Mousa Abu Marzook . . . the political leader of the terrorist group Hamas."

 
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