Like most Arab-Americans, Tawfiq Deek is shocked and feeling vulnerable in the wake of last week's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. Unlike most Arab-Americans, though, Deek got a personal visit from two FBI agents within hours of the incident.
The FBI comes calling now and again because Tawfiq's younger brother, Khalil Deek, recently spent a year in a Jordanian prison for his alleged ties to infamous Saudi fugitive and terrorist financier Osama bin Laden.
Jordan freed Deek four months ago, but the sense of insecurity surrounding his family in Orange County hasn't disappeared. Indeed, it has blossomed—thanks in part to reports that bin Laden was behind last week's carnage on the East Coast. So Tawfiq, a 40-year-old engineer who lives in Anaheim, wasn't surprised when, on Sept. 11, just hours after the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history, two FBI agents showed up at his office in Brea.
"They called me up to the front office," Deek recalled in a Sept. 12 interview with the Weekly. "They were really polite. They asked if I had any information that could help them, whether I knew anything about what had happened. One of them was the same guy who visited me last time."
Deek was referring to the FBI's visit last New Year's Eve; agents wanted to know if he had heard rumors of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil on the first anniversary of the plot that resulted in his brother's arrest. That conspiracy, apparently thwarted by Jordanian, Pakistani and U.S. officials, was to blow up tourist targets in Amman, Jordan. The Weekly has previously reported that Khalil Deek, a U.S. citizen and former Anaheim resident, was arrested by Pakistani authorities in December 1999 and hauled to Jordan in connection with the plot.
In those articles, Tawfiq Deek defended his brother, saying that while Khalil may have known people tied to bin Laden, he never knowingly would have joined terrorists. He described his brother as "a family man" whose only crime was to become deeply religious in recent years—a spiritual shift that took Deek from Anaheim to Pakistan in search of a Muslim-majority society.
In Pakistan, Deek opened a computer store and—according to his arrest warrant—acted as a quasi-travel agent for bin Laden's terrorist network. At first, Jordanian and U.S. authorities made much of Deek's arrest, hailing it as a major victory in the war against terrorism. Claiming that police found bomb-making materials in his house in Peshawar, major U.S. newspapers even reported that Deek was a "top deputy of bin Laden."
But it soon became clear that the "bomb-making materials" consisted of a computerized copy of Encyclopedia Jihad, a controversial yet widely available Arabic-language book akin to an Islamic Anarchist's Cookbook. No evidence that Deek had met with bin Laden or knew anything about terrorist activities ever emerged.
But within a week of his arrest, Deek had already been described in various news reports as a former Afghan resistance fighter against Soviet occupation, a U.S. Army veteran, and a close associate of bin Laden who had visited the fugitive Saudi millionaire at his Afghan hideout. As Deek languished in a Jordanian jail, media interest in his case dwindled. Meanwhile, in a series of exclusive interviews with the Weekly in July 2000, Tawfiq offered a more mundane portrait of his brother—a portrait that seemed mundane until last week, when eerily similar details emerged about the suspects involved in the hijackings.
According to Tawfiq, his brother emigrated to the U.S. in 1980 and studied to obtain his commercial pilot's license in Greeley, Colorado—at exactly the same type of school that trained the terrorists involved in last week's attacks. But Deek never completed his training with commercial jets, apparently because the fees to obtain the license were too expensive. Instead, he settled for a private pilot's license, and after he moved to Denton, Texas, his interest in airplanes waned in favor of computers.
In 1985, Deek completed a computer-programming course in Texas and moved to Anaheim, where he was joined by his brother, who emigrated to the U.S. two years later. Both became active in Southern California groups such as the Islamic Association for Palestine, a mainstream Palestinian exile group that the FBI has long labeled as a terrorist fund-raising organization. Khalil went so far as to apply for citizenship; in 1991, he got it.
But Tawfiq says his brother, homesick for the Middle East, left the U.S. in 1996, intending to find work in the West Bank. Israeli authorities refused to let him enter Palestine. After a brief stay in neighboring Jordan, Deek settled in Pakistan. There, he remarried, opened his computer business and raised two children.
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That was all Tawfiq knew about his brother's activities until Dec. 14, 1999, when he heard a radio broadcast announcing that Khalil had been arrested in Pakistan. Citing lack of evidence—and his willingness to cooperate with investigators—Jordanian police finally released him from prison in May 2001, immediately expelling him from the country. Although it has been reported that Deek has rejoined his wife and two children in Pakistan, Tawfiq declined to tell the Weekly his brother's whereabouts, citing concern for Khalil's safety. "He's trying to keep a low profile," he said.
These days, Tawfiq Deek is understandably trying to do the exact same thing. He says he feels just as horrified as any other U.S. citizen about the recent terrorist attacks. Like many Palestinian exiles, he worries that such incidents will only make Israel more determined to occupy his homeland.
Worse, for the first time since he moved to the U.S. 13 years ago, Tawfiq says he's worried about his physical safety. His local mosque and an Islamic day school for children were shut down because of threats.
"It is a very bad situation right now with the tragedy in New York," he concluded. "Everywhere you go—on the street and at work—people look at you and blame you."