The hostage-taker at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville mentioned that he wanted to speak with Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist serving an 86-year prison sentence for assault and attempted murder of a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan.
Known as “Lady al-Qaeda” in counterterrorism circles, supporters from Pakistan to Texas view her as an innocent victim of the American war on terror.
Both the Islamic State and the Taliban, who once again control Afghanistan, sought to trade Siddiqui for American and European hostages – reflecting her “superstar” status among militants. At one point, jihadists offered James Foley, a journalist captured in Syria and beheaded in August 2014.
Siddiqui, 49, a mother of three with degrees from MIT and Brandeis University, is being held in the Federal Medical Center at Carswell in Fort Worth.
U.S. authorities say she worked as a courier for Khalid Sheikh Muhammad – the main architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. She was briefly married to his nephew, Ammar al-Baluchi, who is on trial at the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, accused of funneling money to the hijackers. He faces the death penalty if convicted.
The FBI placed her on a list of its seven most wanted al-Qaeda fugitives in 2004, the only woman to make that list.
Siddiqui’s case has generated protests nationwide, including one at the federal medical center last year.
She came to the U.S. in 1990 to study, earning a degree in biology from MIT and a PhD from Brandeis University in behavioral neuroscience. She and her first husband returned to Pakistan with their children after the 9/11 attacks. Reportedly, she wanted to help Taliban fighters near the Afghan border and her husband disapproved, and they divorced in 2002.
In 2003, she married al-Baluchi, shortly before he went into U.S. custody. He has been at Guantánamo since 2006.
In 2008, she was arrested in Afghanistan. U.S. authorities said she was carrying sodium cyanide and documents showing how to chemical weapons and dirty bombs, and to weaponize Ebola, and alleged she was involved in an al-Qaeda plot to sabotage gas stations and underground storage tanks and poison or destroy water treatment facilities in the United States, Britain and Pakistan.
During her second day in custody, she shot at FBI and Army interrogators with an M4 carbine one of them had placed on the floor. She was wounded when an officer returned fire.
She was returned to the United States in September 2008 and indicted for the shooting. She was convicted and sentenced in 2010. Supporters in the United States and abroad have long contended that she is a victim of an interrogation system run amok.
“Dr. Aafia Siddiqui is serving an unjust 86-year prison sentence for a crime that she did not commit,” the executive director of CAIR-Dallas, Faizan Syed, said in November.
Siddiqui’s lawyer, Marwa Elbially, called her “one of the greatest victims of the so-called ‘war on terror’ kidnapping program that saw hundreds of innocent people kidnapped and held in U.S.-funded detention around the world.”
CAIR condemned the hostage-taking on Saturday.
“This latest antisemitic attack at a house of worship is an unacceptable act of evil,” said national deputy director Edward Ahmed Mitchell.
Over 200 protestors gathered at the federal medical prison in Fort Worth in September to demand her release. Similar protests have been held in Washington and at Pakistan’s diplomatic outposts in Houston and New York.
Former U.S, Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who died in April 2021, described Siddiqui’s case as “the worst case of individual injustice” he had ever seen.
In a lawsuit filed Jan. 3 in federal court, Siddiqui alleged that last year, another female prisoner smashed a coffee mug with hot liquid into her face. The other inmate also punched and kicked her, leaving her badly injured. Siddiqui is fighting the U.S. Bureau of Prisons for information on the attack.
Siddiqui was segregated from other inmates after the assault, which she said has compounded her physical and emotional trauma.