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Context of 'May 2001: US and Jordan Let Suspected Al-Qaeda Figure Go Free'

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Khalil Deek.Khalil Deek. [Source: Ali Jarekji / Reuters]In 2007, the New Yorker magazine will note, “American intelligence officials had been investigating [Khalil] Deek and [Abu] Zubaida’s activities since at least the late eighties,” but it will not explain why. Deek is a Palestinian and naturalized US citizen living in California for most of the 1990s who will later reportedly mastermind several al-Qaeda bomb plots. [New Yorker, 1/22/2007] Abu Zubaida, the nom de guerre of Saudi-born Palestinian Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein (also spelled Zein al-Abideen Muhammad Hassan) [Washington Post, 4/22/2009] , joins the Palestinian uprising in 1987, when he is only sixteen years old. He then goes to Afghanistan, presumably joins with bin Laden, and fights there before the war ends in 1989. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 95] Between 1988 and 1996, Deek is apparently involved with the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP), a US-based charity which the US government will later call a “front group” for the Palestinian militant group Hamas. The IAP is closely tied to the Holy Land Foundation, established near Dallas, Texas, in 1989 (see 1989), and it appears the foundation was investigated from very early on. Deek is living in Dallas that year. [Orange County Weekly, 5/31/2001] Palestinian militant activity through organizations like the IAP may explain why these two are investigated at this time, and/or the two may have engaged in other activities. Counterterrorism expert Rita Katz will later claim that the Jordanian government “knew about Deek since the early 1990s. They had a lot of interest in him. They really considered him a major terrorist figure.” [Orange County Weekly, 6/17/2004] Deek and Zubaida will later work together on a number of operations, for instance using the honey trade to ship drugs and weapons (see May 2000), and masterminding a millennium bomb plot in Jordan. [New Yorker, 1/22/2007]

Entity Tags: Khalil Deek, Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, Abu Zubaida, Rita Katz, Islamic Association for Palestine

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

As an al-Qaeda millennium plot is broken up in Jordan (see November 30, 1999), attention is focused on the fact that two of the plotters were long time US residents. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger sends a memo to President Clinton about the two men, Raed Hijazi and Khalil Deek. Hijazi had lived in California and then moved to Boston to drive a taxi there for several years. The 9/11 Commission will say Berger tells Clinton was a naturalized US citizen who had “been in touch with extremists in the United States as well as abroad.” Later in the month, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will warn Berger in an e-mail, “Foreign terrorist sleeper cells are present in the US and attacks in the US are likely.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 179, 501] Deek is arrested on December 11 (see December 11, 1999), but he will eventually be released without being charged (see May 2001). A few days later, Clarke authorizes a study that looks into Deek’s connections, but no action will be taken when it is discovered Deek’s next-door neighbor is still living in Anaheim, California, and running an al-Qaeda sleeper cell there (see December 14-25, 1999). Similarly, while Hijazi will be arrested overseas some months later (see September 2000), US intelligence seems oblivious to the other al-Qaeda operatives who have been his roommates and fellow taxi drivers in Boston (see June 1995-Early 1999 and October 2000). One of them, Nabil al-Marabh, will apparently go on to have a major role in the 9/11 plot (see for example January 2001-Summer 2001 and Early September 2001). Investigators will also fail to act on knowledge of financial transactions between Hijazi and three of the 9/11 hijackers (see Spring 2001).

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Khalil Deek, Raed Hijazi, Sandy Berger, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Nabil al-Marabh

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Khalil Deek.Khalil Deek. [Source: Tawfiq Deek]Khalil Deek is arrested by police in Peshawar, Pakistan, and immediately extradited to Jordan. The Jordanian government requested the arrest after tying Deek to a millennium plot to blow up hotels in Jordan that had been broken up a few days ago (see November 30, 1999). [Orange County Weekly, 6/15/2006] Deek is a naturalized US citizen who has been part of a California al-Qaeda sleeper cell for most of the 1990s. He had been investigated by US authorities since the late 1980s (see Late 1980s, March 1993-1996, and December 14-25, 1999) but was never arrested. Deek’s computer is confiscated when he is arrested, and computer files reveal the targets of the Jordanian plot. [Cooley, 2002, pp. 33] According to contemporary press accounts, Deek, who was running a computer repair shop in Peshawar, Pakistan, had helped encrypt al-Qaeda’s Internet communications and smuggled recruits to al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. Some reports identify him as a former mujaheddin fighter, a US Army veteran, and a close associate of Osama bin Laden. Articles also claim he worked closely with al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida on the Jordanian plot and other things (see May 2000, Late 1980s, and 1998-December 11, 1999). [Orange County Weekly, 6/15/2006] CNN says Deek “is believed to be the mastermind” of the Jordanian plot. [CNN, 12/17/1999] But, unlike the rest of the defendants in the Jordanian case, Deek is transferred from a maximum-security prison to a minimum-security one. He alone is not charged. He will be released in May 2001 (see May 2001). [Orange County Weekly, 6/15/2006] It will later be alleged that Deek was a Jordanian intelligence mole (see Shortly After December 11, 1999).

Entity Tags: Jordan, Al-Qaeda, Abu Zubaida, Khalil Deek, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Khalil Deek, a US citizen accused of helping to plot an al-Qaeda linked millennium attack in Jordan, reportedly cooperates against al-Qaeda shortly after being deported to Jordan (see December 11, 1999). Journalist Jonathan Randal will later assert that “a highly placed American in [Jordan] did claim that early on Deek had sung,” meaning he revealed all that he knew. [Randal, 2005, pp. 6] The Los Angeles Times reports in March 2000 that Deek “reportedly has cooperated with US investigators in deciphering [al-Qaeda] computer disks.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/29/2000] The London Times will later report the same thing. [London Times, 11/4/2001] Deek will be mysteriously released from Jordanian prison in mid-2001, fueling speculation about his cooperation (see May 2001). In 2003, journalist Jason Burke will claim in a book that Deek “was, in fact, an agent for the Jordanian secret services.” Burke mentions this in passing and does not explain how he would know this. [Burke, 2004, pp. 317] In 2005, Randal will echo Burke’s claim in a book, saying, “If [Deek] indeed did sing, one possible explanation is that Deek may have been a Jordanian intelligence mole all along and had tipped his masters off to the impending millennium plot and perhaps much more about al-Qaeda. That would elucidate why he was jailed, but never charged or tried.” [Randal, 2005, pp. 6] If true, it would suggest that Jordan had great insight into al-Qaeda for many years. Deek has been considered an important al-Qaeda leader with knowledge about many other al-Qaeda operatives. For instance, one US official calls him a “concierge” or “travel agent” for al-Qaeda. [New York Times, 2/4/2000] He is also considered a close associate of high ranking al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida. If Deek is a Jordanian mole, this might explain why it will later be reported that US intelligence has been investigating Zubaida and Deek since the late 1980s (see Late 1980s). It also might explain why US intelligence was seemingly uninterested in intelligence that Deek was running militant training camps in California in the early 1990s (see Early 1990s), running an al-Qaeda sleeper cell in California for most of the 1990s (see March 1993-1996 and December 25, 1999), and why the US never officially charged Deek with any crimes (see Spring 2004). But it would be harder to explain why Deek’s associates have yet to be been arrested or deported from the US (see January 2002) or why Deek apparently moved to remote areas of Pakistan dominated by al-Qaeda after it was reported he helped decipher al-Qaeda’s computer codes (see Spring 2004).

Entity Tags: Jordan General Intelligence Department, Khalil Deek, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Rita Katz.Rita Katz. [Source: Publicity photo /]Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, hearing about Ahmed Ressam’s arrest earlier in the day (see December 14, 1999), hires a team of private terrorism analysts to complete a report on militant Islamic cells in North America. The Investigative Project on Terrorism, led by Steven Emerson, finishes the report just prior to the end of the year, hoping to help stop any millennium plots. [New Yorker, 5/29/2006] Investigator Rita Katz discovers that a man named Khalil Deek who has just been arrested in Jordan for a role in a millennium plot is a US citizen (see December 11, 1999). Using only public records, she begins looking into Deek’s activities in the US. She believes that she discovers a sleeper cell consisting of: [Katz, 2003, pp. 161-162]
bullet Khalil Deek. He is an al-Qaeda operative who has lived in Anaheim, California, for most of the 1990s. A former senior CIA official will later claim that Deek’s extremist connections were already “well established in the classified intelligence” by this time, and in fact, it will later be reported that Deek’s connections with al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida had been investigated since the late 1980s (see Late 1980s). Katz learns from intelligence reports that Deek has connections to a militant cell based in Montreal, Canada that includes Ressam. She suspects that Deek is coordinating al-Qaeda groups in North America. [LA Weekly, 9/15/2005; New Yorker, 1/22/2007] Deek regularly wires tens of thousands of dollars to overseas destinations. Business records show Deek was still in Anaheim as late as August 1998. The research team discovers Deek may have been visiting the US as late as September 1999. [US Congress, 1/25/2000; Orange County Weekly, 6/15/2006]
bullet Hisham Diab. Katz learns that Diab is Deek’s next door neighbor in Anaheim and she suspects the two of them have been operating a sleeper cell there (in fact, Diab’s wife had already repeatedly tried to warn the FBI about her husband, to no avail (see March 1993-1996). [LA Weekly, 9/15/2005]
bullet She discovers that Deek and Diab have formed a charity front called Charity Without Borders (this group received a $75,000 state grant in 1997 to distribute fliers encouraging the recycling of used motor oil). [LA Weekly, 9/15/2005; Orange County Weekly, 6/15/2006]
bullet Tawfiq Deek, Khalil Deek’s brother. Katz discovers that Tawfiq has presented himself as the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP) spokesman in California. Katz calls the IAP the “Hamas front in America.” [Katz, 2003, pp. 167] Khalid Ashour, a Palestinian. He had lived in the same apartment building as the Deek brothers and Diab, and also worked with the IAP. But what most interests Katz is that he had been heavily involved in the Islamic Center of Tuscon in the early 1990s. The Islamic Center is important for the IAP but is also believed to be the focal point for al-Qaeda’s first base in the US (see 1994). Katz discovers that he had been arrested in 1991 trying to enter the US with a fake ID and border guards found handbooks of explosives and bombs in his car. In 1999, he had moved nearly half a million dollars out of the US despite holding a job that only paid $600 a week. [Katz, 2003, pp. 167-168]
bullet Although Katz does not discover it at the time, another associate of the Deeks and Diab in Anaheim named Adam Gadahn will later emerge as a prominent al-Qaeda spokesman in Afghanistan (see Spring 2004).
Katz, Emerson, and other members of the Investigative Project on Terrorism will brief members of the National Security Council about what they learned on December 25, 1999, but no action will be taken against the suspects they have uncovered (see December 25, 1999).

Entity Tags: Tawfiq Deek, National Security Council, Richard A. Clarke, Khalil Deek, Khalid Ashour, Adam Gadahn, Hisham Diab, Investigative Project on Terrorism, Steven Emerson, Rita Katz

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

From left to right: Mokhtar Haouari, Abdelmajid Dahoumane, Abdel Ghani Meskini. The picture of Meskini is from an ATM camera.From left to right: Mokhtar Haouari, Abdelmajid Dahoumane, Abdel Ghani Meskini. The picture of Meskini is from an ATM camera. [Source: Public domain, public domain, and Seattle Times]In the wake of the arrest of Ahmed Ressam (see December 14, 1999), FBI investigators work frantically to uncover more millennium plots before the end of the year. US authorities also make a number of arrests.
bullet A telephone number found in Ressam’s pocket leads to Abdel Ghani Meskini, an Algerian living in New York City who had gone to Seattle to meet Ressam. Meskini is monitored and arrested in New York on December 30.
bullet One of Ressam’s credit cards leads to the arrest of Mokhtar Haouari, an Algerian living in Montreal, Canada. Meskini later cooperates with US investigators and is never charged, while Haouari will be sentenced to 24 years in prison. [Time, 2/7/2000; CNN, 1/16/2002; Wright, 2006, pp. 298]
bullet Another Algerian associate of Ressam’s, Abdelmajid Dahoumane, escapes to Afghanistan, but will eventually be caught by the Algerian government and convicted in Algeria. [PBS Frontline, 10/25/2001]
bullet Investigators believe that Mohamedou Ould Slahi, an al-Qaeda operative whose cousin is a top al-Qaeda leader, went to Canada to give the go-ahead for Ressam’s attack. Slahi is arrested several times overseas, but never charged (see January-April 2000). [CNN, 3/6/2002]
bullet Khalid Deek, a US citizen, is arrested around this time for masterminding another al-Qaeda millennnium plot (see December 11, 1999). But counterterrorism expert Rita Katz will later say Deek was a suspected mastermind of Ressam’s Los Angeles airport plot, too. [Orange County Register, 9/12/2005] Deek’s name and phone number is found in Ressam’s telephone book. Ressam knew Deek from bin Laden training camps in Afghanistan. Both of them, like most of Ressam’s group, have links to the GIA, an Algerian militant group associated with al-Qaeda. [Newsweek (International), 3/13/2000]
Others escape the US after hearing media reports of Ressam’s arrest. However, enough people are caught to stop additional millennium attacks. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later says, “I think a lot of the FBI leadership for the first time realized that… there probably were al-Qaeda people in the United States. They realized that only after they looked at the results of the investigation of the millennium bombing plot.” [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002] Yet Clinton’s National Security Adviser Sandy Berger later claims that the FBI will still repeatedly assure the Clinton White House until Clinton leaves office that al-Qaeda lacks the ability to launch a domestic strike (see 2000).

Entity Tags: Mohamedou Ould Slahi, Sandy Berger, Khalil Deek, Mokhtar Haouari, Groupe Islamique Armé, Abdel Ghani Meskini, Al-Qaeda, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Richard A. Clarke, Ahmed Ressam

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A secret CIA report details al-Qaeda’s use of the honey trade to generate income and secretly move weapons, drugs, and operatives around the world. The CIA had been gathering information and monitoring some honey stores for almost two years before the study. Bin Laden is believed to control a number of retail honey shops in various countries, especially in Sudan, Yemen, and Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda leaders Abu Zubaida and Khalil Deek, an American citizen, are said to be particularly tied to the honey trade. One US official will later say, “The smell and consistency of the honey makes it easy to hide weapons and drugs in the shipments. Inspectors don’t want to inspect that product. It’s too messy.” But although a number of companies dealing in honey are tied to al-Qaeda (and sometimes to Islamic Jihad), the US will not make any move to freeze the assets of these companies until after 9/11. [New York Times, 10/11/2001] Counterterrorism expert Steven Emerson will later claim Deek was “running an underground railroad in the Middle East for terrorists, shuttling them to different countries,” which would fit with his alleged role in the honey network. [LA Weekly, 9/15/2005]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Abu Zubaida, Al-Qaeda, Central Intelligence Agency, Khalil Deek

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Khalil Deek, member of an al-Qaeda cell in Anaheim, California, is mysteriously released in Jordan and allowed to go free. Deek had been arrested on suspicions that he masterminded a series of planned millennium attacks in Jordan (see December 11, 1999). Investigators believe he may have masterminded an attempted bombing of the Los Angeles airport as well (see December 15-31, 1999), and in fact US intelligence had been interested in him since the late 1980s (see Late 1980s, December 14-25, 1999, and May 2000). But despite is the seemingly strong evidence against him, he is released this month after mounting a hunger strike. Relatives tell a US newspaper that US government officials pressured Jordan to let him go. [Orange County Register, 9/12/2005] Despite the fact that US officials had previously labeled him a terrorist mastermind, they do not protest his release. [Orange County Weekly, 6/15/2006] The Jordanian government claims they lacked evidence Deek was aware of terrorist activities. [Orange County Weekly, 6/17/2004] The Los Angeles Times reports that he had cooperated with US investigators in deciphering al-Qaeda computer documents. [Los Angeles Times, 3/29/2000] He is deported to the United Arab Emirates. He is rearrested there and held for several days, and then let go again. [Orange County Weekly, 5/31/2001] A few days later, Deek emerges at the US embassy in Pakistan with his wife and family. He approaches the embassy gates, asking staffers there help to bring his family back to the US. However, he is only able to speak to someone through an intercom and is not allowed in the building. He is told to come back in two weeks. A newspaper will later comment, “Given that the US government already considered him a dangerous man, it’s not surprising that embassy officials weren’t eager to provide him with travel visas. But it is weird that they didn’t let him inside the building and simply arrest him.” [Orange County Weekly, 6/15/2006] It will later be alleged that Deek was actually a mole for the Jordanian government (see Shortly After December 11, 1999).

Entity Tags: US intelligence, Jordan, Khalil Deek

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In late December 1999, Rita Katz, working with the Investigative Project on Terrorism, gave a presentation in the White House to members of the National Security Council (NSC) about a suspected al-Qaeda sleeper cell based in Anaheim, California (see December 25, 1999). The NSC forwarded the information her team gleaned from public sources to the FBI. Katz later repeatedly asked a contact she had with the NSC named Peter what happened to the lead she gave them. Peter replied that he assumed the FBI was just sitting on the material. [Katz, 2003, pp. 180] Around January 2002, Katz is contacted by an FBI agent in California who is looking for investigative leads on al-Qaeda in California. Katz forwards him all her information she gave in her White House presentation back in 1999. According to Katz, the agent looks over the material and says it is “very strong… I want to go all the way with this investigation.” Then the agent registers his investigation with the FBI so other agents with leads could contact him. A few days later, he calls Katz and says that he has been taken off the case because it falls into the jurisdiction of the FBI’s Anaheim office. Apparently that office does nothing with the lead. In 1999, Katz suggested the cell included Khalil Deek, arrested in late 1999 for involvement in a millennium bomb plot in Jordan (see December 11, 1999), his brother Tawfiq Deek, Hisham Diab, and Khalid Ashour. [Katz, 2003, pp. 186-187] ABC News will later report that Diab continued to live in Anaheim until June 2001, when he apparently moved to Afghanistan to stay with top al-Qaeda leaders. [ABC News, 12/23/2004] Khalil Deek is mysteriously released in Jordan around the same time (see May 2001); it will later be alleged that he was a mole for the Jordanian government (see Shortly After December 11, 1999). By late 1999, Ashour had requested asylum in the US. Katz will later note that he “could have been easily located, investigated, and if necessary, denied asylum and deported.” But as of 2003, Katz claims Ashour still lives in the US. [Katz, 2003, pp. 187] Tawfiq Deek apparently continues to live in Anaheim as well, where he works for the state’s Department of Toxic Substance Control as a chemical engineer. He denies all terrorism ties, though he confirms that he was an active member of the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP), which the FBI has called a Hamas front group. [LA Weekly, 9/15/2005] Another associate of the above group, Adam Gadahn, will emerge in Afghanistan in 2004 as a prominent al-Qaeda spokesman (see Spring 2004).

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Adam Gadahn, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Hisham Diab, Rita Katz, Khalil Deek, Khalid Ashour, Tawfiq Deek

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Al-Qaeda has released a series of video messages featuring Adam Gadahn. This one is from September 2, 2006.Al-Qaeda has released a series of video messages featuring Adam Gadahn. This one is from September 2, 2006. [Source: Public domain / Wikipedia]The Washington Post will report in May 2004, “US officials have continued investigating [Khalil] Deek’s whereabouts, a fact that is made clear since [his name has recently] appeared on US terrorist lookout lists.” Deek is a naturalized US citizen whom authorities believe was a member of an al-Qaeda cell in Anaheim, California for most of the 1990s. He was arrested in Jordan for masterminding an al-Qaeda millennium bomb plot there (see December 11, 1999). Then he was let go, apparently with US approval (see May 2001). US intelligence has a record dating back to the late 1980s of investigating Deek for a variety of criminal activities but taking no action against him (see Late 1980s, March 1993-1996, December 14-25, 1999, November 30, 1999, May 2000, December 15-31, 1999). It is not known why Deek is finally watchlisted at this time, though it is likely connected to wide publicity about Adam Gadahn. Gadahn, a Caucasian American also known as “Azzam the American,” was a member of Deek’s Anaheim cell in the mid-1990s. He moved to Afghanistan where he has since become well-known as a top al-Qaeda media spokesman. [New Yorker, 1/22/2007] Counterterrorism expert Rita Katz, who investigated Deek for the US government in the late 1990s, says it’s “a mystery” law enforcement officials have not arrested or even charged Deek as a terrorist. [Orange County Weekly, 6/17/2004] A US newspaper reporter who closely followed Deek’s career will comment that Deek seemingly “couldn’t get arrested to save his life.” [Orange County Weekly, 6/15/2006] Deek has not been hard from since. There will be unconfirmed reports that he was killed somewhere in Pakistan in early 2005, but his body has not been found. [Orange County Weekly, 6/15/2006]

Entity Tags: Adam Gadahn, United States, Khalil Deek

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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