From Baltimore Suburbs to a Secret CIA Prison

By Eric Rich and Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, September 10, 2006

BALTIMORE -- He was the studious one in Janis Sanford's social studies class at Owings Mills High School, the teenager who stood apart from his suburban Baltimore peers for his no-nonsense attitude. Majid Khan worked at the family gas station after school and, in his free time, indulged his interest in computers.

But something happened to the serious young man after he graduated in 1999, when his life took a dramatic -- and much-disputed -- turn.

Khan, now 26, is one of the 14 "high-value" terrorism suspects transferred Monday to the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, men the government considered so dangerous they had been held by the CIA at secret foreign prisons for years. Khan is expected to stand trial on terrorism charges after Congress approves a new set of rules for the special military courts that will decide the fates of the 14 suspects.

This week's allegations stunned Sanford, who said the young man she taught in her English-as-a-second-language class could not, as alleged, have plotted to blow up gas stations or poison drinking water in U.S. reservoirs.

"It doesn't make any sense to me," said Sanford, who taught many of the school's foreign students. "I can't imagine it.

"He wasn't one of these kinds of fool-around kids. He just seemed serious. . . . He wasn't a light-hearted jokester."

In brief interviews Thursday and Friday, his father said the charges are false. "He's a terrorist, my son? No!" Khan Ali said, speaking in the family's brick duplex in Windsor Mill. "I don't accept this."

The father spoke only hours after the first official confirmation of what he and others had long presumed: that his son had been held by the CIA since he disappeared in Pakistan in 2003.

The family moved to the United States in 1996 and settled in the Baltimore area, authorities said. After graduating, Khan married a woman in Pakistan and became a father. Though the child is now 2, Ali said, his son has been in custody since before her birth and has had no contact with her. Ali said his son had been in Pakistan less than a year when, in 2003, he was arrested by Pakistani authorities.

At one point, in seeming contradiction, he said of his son, "He has been brainwashed." He also acknowledged that a relative is affiliated with al-Qaeda. Authorities last week described that unidentified relative as an uncle, but Ali said the relationship is more distant.

Before Khan was detained, he and his family lived in a modest home in Catonsville. Some recalled that, for a time several years ago, the house appeared to be under surveillance. Neighbor John Owen said another resident once called him in the middle of the night to say that a person was sitting in a car outside Owen's home. Owen said he went out and tapped on the window.

"This guy holds up a shield," Owen said, referring to a law enforcement badge, "and said, 'I'm watching a house.' "

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