The May 23 release of Khalil Deek, arrested by Pakistani police two years ago as a "top lieutenant" of terrorist Osama bin Laden, confirms suspicions first raised by the OC Weekly five months ago that former Anaheim resident Deek was innocent all along.
At press time, the computer engineer had left Jordan, where he'd been jailed since his arrest 17 months ago. He had never seen a courtroom or been formally charged with any crime, but he has already run into new trouble: just hours after being deported from Jordan, Deek was detained by immigration authorities at Dubai International Airport in the United Arab Emirates.
"I don't know why they are holding him there," said Anaheim resident Tawfiq Deek, Khalil's younger brother. His family hasn't spoken to Khalil since his release and has no idea why he had been put on a plane to Dubai.
"I'd like to talk to him, and I can't," Tawfiq said. "My family [in Jordan] also wants to see him. They are trying to go to the airport to see if they can see him. . . . It's very strange, but as long as he's released, it doesn't matter."
In January, the Weekly reported that Deek felt so abandoned by the U.S. Embassy in Jordan that he was planning a hunger strike unless the Jordanian government either formally charged him with a crime or set him free. According to Tawfiq, Khalil's patience finally ran out on May 3, when he refused his first meal and then stopped eating for more than two weeks.
"He was unhealthy and had gone 18 days without eating," Tawfiq explained. "[During] the last week of his hunger strike, they took him to the hospital four times and gave him a water-and-salt solution to keep his heart pumping. That is probably a major reason they let him go. I think they were afraid he was going to die in there."
If his family is unsure why Khalil went to Dubai, the media seems more confused. A May 24 story in the Los Angeles Times reported that Deek was bound for Sudan. "I don't know why they said that," Tawfiq said.
The confusion over Deek's destination mirrored the media's bewilderment over Deek's true identity—especially whether he really had any connection to bin Laden, the Saudi millionaire suspected of financing the U.S. embassy bombings in Africa in 1999. After Deek's January 2000 arrest in Pakistan and his subsequent imprisonment in Jordan, he was portrayed in the U.S. media as bin Laden's right-hand man, a computer-savvy travel agent for bin Laden's terrorist organization and a mujahideen foot soldier who fought the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
Deek was among more than two dozen suspects nabbed for allegedly plotting to blow up tourism-related targets in Jordan on New Year's Eve. But unlike the others, most of them Pakistani nationals, Deek had quietly lived most of his adult life as a computer programmer in Colorado, Texas and California. While living in Anaheim between 1988 and 1996, he became involved with the Islamic Association for Palestine, an Arab-American nonprofit group that raised money for humanitarian causes in the Middle East but which the U.S. government has labeled a "front group" for the radical Palestinian religious group Hamas.
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In 1991, Deek became a U.S. citizen. Five years later, he moved back to the Middle East, eventually settling in Peshawar, Pakistan. That's where his family believes he may have met people connected to bin Laden. But the only physical evidence linking Deek to terrorism was a computerized copy of Encyclopedia Jihad, a kind of Anarchist Cookbook widely available in bookstores throughout the Middle East.
U.S. State Department officials and "counterterrorism experts" were routinely cited in the press heralding Deek's arrest as a major victory in the war against terrorism. They have yet to explain Jordan's sudden decision to release him. Greg Williams, an official with the State Department's Jordan desk, refused to tell the Weekly whether the U.S. government still suspects Deek is a terrorist.
"Jordanian authorities informed us of the release of a U.S. citizen who had been in custody with regard to an ongoing investigation," said Williams. "I would note that Jordan's record on security and terrorism has been and continues to be exemplary, and we do accept the need for any government, including the government of Jordan, to apply the rule of law in investigating terrorist incidents. We have been monitoring his well-being since his incarceration and have been providing him with regular consular services."
But the notion that the U.S. government assisted Deek in any way doesn't wash with his family in Anaheim. "They say they helped my brother," Tawfiq said. "But I don't believe it."