No sign of American University student missing in Persian Gulf since Wednesday

Courtesy of Laila Al-Arian - Adel Ait-Ghezala, 35, went missing while free diving in Dubai on Wednesday.

The friends and family of a 35-year-old American University PhD student who disappeared Wednesday while free-diving in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, say they hope the U.S. Navy will join the search for him in the Persian Gulf.

Adel Ait-Ghezala, an Algerian citizen and Logan Circle resident, was on vacation and had set out in a boat with other divers and his wife to go spearfishing 20 miles off the coast of Dubai, his brother said.

(Courtesy of Laila Al-Arian) - Adel Ait-Ghezala, 35, went missing while free diving in Dubai on Wednesday.

Ait-Ghezala, an experienced diver, failed to surface after a dive. He was equipped with a wet suit, fins and a snorkel, but no tank, his brother said, adding that the coast guard and private boats have been searching for him for more than 48 hours.

“He may have strayed from the boat, maybe a current caught him,” said his brother, Ahmed Ait-Ghezala, who also lives in the District and planned to fly to Dubai on Friday night. “He’s well-equipped, he has a compass to tell him the direction. . . . Hopefully, he has the mental strength to keep going and not panic.”

Adel Ait-Ghezala, who has lived in the District for a decade and is also an adjunct instructor at American, had been working on a dissertation about tourism and colonialism in the Persian Gulf and was doing research in the region, his brother said. He had planned to return to the United States on Jan. 7 and finish his dissertation in May.

The United Arab Emirates coast guard has been searching for him since Wednesday, said Abdullah Al-Arian, a close friend of Ait-Ghezala’s from the District who flew from Qatar to Dubai to help with the search.

“They’ve sent in boats. They’ve sent in teams of divers, helicopters, and in addition, there are also volunteers, expert divers from all over the world,” said Arian, who studied at Georgetown University and was once roommates with Ait-Ghezala.

But the coast guard is not able to search at night, his brother said, adding that he had contacted the State Department and spoken to the Algerian ambassador in Dubai to request help from U.S. Navy personnel in the gulf.

A State Department spokeswoman said that because Ait-Ghezala is not a U.S. citizen or a legal permanent resident, the department is unable to handle the case.

Ait-Ghezala has a student visa, his brother said. But he pointed out that “there are precedents where governments ask other governments for help, whether it’s a relief effort after a typhoon or a pirate ship.”

Ait-Ghezala’s brother said that he had met with Algerian Embassy officials in Washington on Friday and that they had promised to call the State Department to make a request for Navy assistance in the area.

“We’re all citizens of the world,” he said. “We all have to make that happen.”

The area where he went missing is a popular place for free diving, Arian said. He said conditions were normal Wednesday afternoon.

An avid sportsman who gets around the District by bicycle, Ait-Ghezala has been married for two years. His wife, Rana Ghaleb, 32, who was on the boat when he disappeared, said he had been in a great mood that day.

“He was diving with one of the other divers,” she said in a phone call from Dubai, where friends and family have flown in from around the world. “My husband could hold his breath a little longer, so the other diver came up first. When he came up, he could see my husband; he seemed fine.”

When he failed to surface, the other divers searched for him in vain. “This whole thing is just destroying me,” she said. “I’m just really trying to pray and stay strong.”

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