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Pakistani police first picked up the 46-year-old computer engineer in January 2000 on terrorism charges. Newspapers around the world said he was a "top deputy" of Osama bin Laden who helped encrypt al-Qaeda communications and smuggle recruits from Pakistan to terrorist training camps in Afghanistan. Pakistani officials said Deek was part of a cell plotting to bomb tourist hotels in Amman, Jordan, on New Year's Eve 1999.
Early evidence against Deek seemed strong. Pakistani police had uncovered bomb-making instructions on his computer—diagrams culled from the pages of Encyclopedia Jihad, an Islamic Anarchist Cookbook widely available in the Middle East. They also discovered that Deek had shared a bank account in Peshawar, Pakistan, with Abu Zubaydah, the alleged ringleader captured by U.S. officials in Pakistan in March 2002.
U.S. officials hailed Deek's arrest and subsequent extradition to Jordan but didn't intervene. Behind bars, Deek declared his innocence and staged a hunger strike to draw international attention to his case. Despite the fact he is a U.S. citizen, embassy officials in Amman ignored him.
Jordanian courts sentenced several other arrestees to death or life in prison (including the infamous Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, who allegedly beheaded Nicholas Berg and who received his death sentence in abstentia). But after 17 months, they freed Deek without charges. In doing so, they said they lacked evidence Deek was aware of terrorist activities and said he had cooperated in deciphering al-Qaeda computer documents.
In May 2001, Deek returned to Pakistan and went to the American consulate in Peshawar to apply for a visa to bring his family to Orange County.
That would have been a perfect opportunity for U.S. authorities to question Deek about his involvement with al-Qaeda. Instead, family members say, Deek was told to fill out an application and come back later.
"They didn't even allow him to come into the building," one of Deek's relatives said in a recent interview. "They told him to fill out an application for a visa and come back in four to six months."
That was four months before Sept. 11. Since then, the family member said, "We have lost all contact with him and don't know where he is."
It's possible the U.S. government doesn't consider Deek a terrorist; FBI officials told the Weekly he's never been on the bureau's official watch list.
But last month, Deek's name surfaced again, this time in a Washington Post story that said it had been added to unspecified U.S. government "terrorist watch lists." The Post went further, linking Deek to Adam Yahiye Gadahn, one of seven suspected al-Qaeda operatives the FBI is seeking in connection with another major terrorist attack officials expect this summer.
According to his family, Deek arrived in the U.S. in 1980 to take flight classes. After obtaining a pilot's license in Colorado, he moved to Texas, studied computers, delivered pizzas, married and divorced. Then he moved to Anaheim and worked as a computer engineer. Deek's family claims he wasn't particularly religious until the mid-1990s. That's when the Post says he met Gadahn, an awkward kid who grew up on a goat farm in Riverside County.
On May 27, just days after the FBI released Gadahn's picture in a high-profile press conference, the Post reported that the terror suspect may have known Deek. The Post said Deek and Gadahn worked for Charity Without Borders in 1997, a year before Gadahn emigrated to Pakistan, where he married an Afghan refugee and is awaiting the birth of a son.
Deek's role in Charity Without Borders is well-known. In his 2002 book American Jihad, anti-terrorism "expert" Steven Emerson wrote, "Deek was actually aiding terrorists in Afghanistan in gaining access to the training camps there and also in different countries throughout the world. The question arises: What was he doing in the U.S. prior to his departure [to Pakistan], and why did Jordanian authorities release him?"
Emerson never answers this provocative question but reports that Deek had changed his name in 1996 to Joseph Adams. According to Deek's family, the name change was "to facilitate Khalil's procuring a new passport in order to be able to travel to Jordan, where he would be able to enter the West Bank to visit his father."
Emerson says he discovered the pseudonym in paperwork filed in the late 1990s with the state of California on behalf of Charity Without Borders, a nonprofit organization run out of Deek's Anaheim apartment.
According to the nonprofit's paperwork, Charity Without Borders' purpose was to "educate, feed, clothe and shelter anyone in any country that is in need of our help." But pointing to the bank account Deek shared with Zubaydah, Emerson raises a more sinister possibility, again in the form of a question he doesn't answer: "Was money from the Charity Without Borders projects with the state of California used to fund terrorist activities?"
"We may never know the answer to this question," he says.
In a review of American Jihad published in the National Journal, K. Daniel Glover cited Emerson's discussion of Deek as an example of how Emerson "drifts unnecessarily into speculation." Glover also points out that Emerson was one of the first terrorism "experts" to blame the 1993 Oklahoma City bombing on Muslim fanatics. Emerson's credibility is further undermined by the fact that his book describes moderate Arab-American groups like the Council for American Islamic Relations as "a venue for radical ideology to be disseminated in the American terrorist infrastructure."
While Emerson claims he uncovered Deek's pseudonym, the Post credits the discovery to the SITE Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based anti-terrorism group founded by Rita Katz, a Jewish exile from Iraq. Contacted at her office last week by the Weekly, Katz said it's "a mystery" law-enforcement officials haven't arrested or even charged Deek as a terrorist.
"The Jordanians knew about Deek since the early 1990s," Katz said. "They had a lot of interest in him. They really considered him a major terrorist figure."