The dark truth behind the man who claimed he had Bin Laden in his sights

He said he saved many Afghan lives, but to his victims, Jack Idema was a brutal psychopath


Jack Idema, a self-styled terrorist-hunter who once claimed he was close to tracking down Osama bin Laden, has died in Mexico, aged 55.

Variously described as a conman, a fantasist, a sociopath, and a super-patriot, Jonathan Keith "Jack" Idema died alone on Saturday of complications relating to Aids, a police official in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo said. The authorities were slow to announce his death as they had trouble identifying the body. No one came to collect his remains, and it fell to the US State Department to confirm his death.

Idema appeared in Kabul at the end of 2001 after the Northern Alliance and US forces swept the Taliban from power. He claimed to have arrived with the Northern Alliance, and said he had saved many Afghan lives with his special forces' medical training. But Northern Alliance commanders said they had no idea who he was.

While he was indeed a former soldier, his life until his arrival in Kabul was typified by bizarre and sometimes criminal misadventure.

Born and raised in Poughkeepsie, New York, Idema joined the army after leaving school in 1975 and worked as Special Forces' radio operator until 1978, military records show. After leaving the military, he set up a paintball business in North Carolina. But when the business foundered in the 1980s, he was convicted of fraud and spent three years in prison. After his release, he was off the radar for some time, before resurfacing with some bizarre lawsuits, including trying to sue Steven Spielberg's Dreamworks for allegedly stealing his life story for the 1997 spy thriller The Peacemaker, starring George Clooney. The case was thrown out.

After pitching up in Kabul, he boasted that he was close to catching the al-Qa'ida leader, Osama bin Laden, and would hold court in hotel bars spinning tales of his exploits. He became known locally as Tora Bora Jack, and Kabul's first cocktail bar named a drink after him. After a few Heinekens, he would tell listeners he was the leader of a group called Task Force Sabre 7, which reported directly to the office of the US Secretary of State.

Idema's endless self-promotion appeared to pay off in the anarchic atmosphere of post-Taliban Afghanistan, and he featured in a number of articles and television programes. He ever co-authored a book, Task Force Dagger.

But behind all the bravado was a brutal truth. In 2004, police raided his house in Kabul and found eight prisoners there, some of them reportedly hanging from the ceiling. During Idema's trial, in Kabul, his detainees told the court they had been kept in shackles and tortured. Idema denied this and insisted he had operated with the knowledge of the Afghan and US militaries, but the court found him guilty and sentenced him to 10 years in Kabul's harsh Pul-e-Charkhi jail.

He was eventually pardoned by President Hamid Karzai in 2007, and after his release he made his way to Mexico, where he again reinvented himself, chartering a boat for tourists.

Few came forward to mourn him yesterday. A former girlfriend, Penny Alesi, who was in touch with him until days before his death, told the Fayetteville Observer: "He had charisma. He was funny. He was smart and well read – but toxic. Truthfully, he was a sociopath."

Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
Life and Style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Year 2 Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Bognor Regis!

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: Year 2 Teacher currently need...

Data Analyst / Marketing Database Analyst

£24000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits