By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Since Olson came forward to accuse her ex-husband, Khalil Deek and Adam Gadahn of organizing a terrorist cell in Anaheim, Tawfiq Deek hasn't had any further visits from the FBI. He has, however, received occasional telephone calls from reporters asking if he could comment on rumors that have percolated from unnamed "intelligence" sources that claim Khalil Deek was killed somewhere in Pakistan. It's unclear where those rumors began, but Tawfiq told me three weeks ago that Khalil's wife, who still lives in Peshawar, called his older brother Adel in Jordan in April 2005 and announced that Khalil was dead.
After getting the news, Tawfiq and Adel obeyed Muslim custom and mourned the loss of their brother for three days. Tawfiq told me that Khalil's wife needed help to bring her children—she was apparently pregnant with their fifth child when Khalil reportedly died—back to her family in Syria. Tawfiq spent more than a year trying to telephone Khalil's wife to see how he might help and says he finally reached her only last month. Some sources say Al Qaeda killed him for collaborating against them while in prison; others suggest he was killed by Pakistani soldiers in a raid. Tawfiq insists he still doesn't know how his brother died, and says he never asked his sister-in-law for details.
"I wanted to ask her that question, but not the first time I talked to her," he said. "It wasn't right. My only concern is for the children. I want to see if we can get them passports, so they can go to Syria. To me, he is dead: murdered, killed, I don't know. This is what she says. If she says this, why do I not believe it? What do I say? She's a liar?"
The mystery of how and if Khalil Deek died—coupled with the mystery of why a brother who has suffered so much for his brother's alleged sins wouldn't bother asking for details after a year of telephone calls—is fitting with the greater enigma of whether Khalil Deek really was a terrorist or just a man with remarkably bad judgment who got involved with remarkably evil people. The fact that at no time before or since 9/11 has the U.S. government ever included his name on any official list of terrorism suspects only deepens the mystery.
Meanwhile, without a body, a time, manner or location of death, it's impossible to say what happened to Deek. Given that he did collaborate against Al Qaeda—which, along with the lack of evidence that he knew anything about the Jordan plot, explains why he isn't still in a prison cell today—it's possible that terrorists might kill him in revenge. And assuming that he really was a terrorist, it's entirely possible that Deek died in some air strike along the remote Pakistan-Afghanistan border, his body blown to smithereens, never to be found.
But it's also equally possible that Khalil Deek—fearing for his own safety and for that of his family—may have simply faked his own death. It's a possibility that isn't lost on his brother.
"I hope, God willing, that my brother will come to my door," Tawfiq says. "If he is alive, Allah, I hope so."
Despite his infamous last name, Tawfiq remains active in Orange County's Muslim community. He's the chairman of the board of directors of an Anaheim mosque. Through that position, he regularly meets with FBI officials through their community outreach program. He wishes people would just forget about his brother, and that reporters would stop putting his name in newspaper articles that only make his life more difficult. "Khalil is dead to me," he said.
Tawfiq has other problems to worry about. The Israeli government recently built a security wall through his family's village. One of his brothers, still living in Nazlat Issa, used to own a carpentry shop with 10 employees, but had to close his business. The little income he earns comes from leasing the land to grow tomatoes and graze sheep. Tawfiq sends him money to keep his two oldest sons in college. On top of all that, now he's trying to help arrange for Khalil's children to move to Syria.
"That is what I am worried about," he said. "How to support my family—not to be harassed for another 20 years because my name is Deek."