Who is Aafia Siddiqui? ‘Lady al-Qaida,’ in Fort Worth prison, was arrested after 9/11

FILE - In this July 17, 2008 file photo, Aafia Siddiqui is seen in the custody of the Counter Terrorism Department of Ghazni province in Ghazni City, Afghanistan. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
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Aafia Siddiqui may have been an unfamiliar name to many before Saturday, before a man claiming she was his sister took people hostage at a Colleyville synagogue and demanded to speak with her.

Siddiqui became the first female terrorism defendant arrested after 9/11, and she was convicted on charges related to the attempted murder and assault of United States officers and employees in Afghanistan in 2008.

ABC News quoted a U.S. official as saying the hostage-taker in Colleyville claimed to be Siddiqui’s brother. It’s unclear if the man is biologically related to Siddiqui. People who have taken up her cause have referred to her as their sister.

A member of the Pakistani government called for Siddiqui to be released from U.S. custody and returned to Pakistan, according to the Express Tribune, a daily English-language newspaper based in Pakistan.

Siddiqui was transferred to the Federal Medical Center-Carswell prison in Fort Worth for medical reasons in 2008. Carswell is the only federal medical facility for women in the U.S., and incarcerated women across the country who have medical needs are often transferred to the prison.

Siddiqui told her attorney she was attacked in her cell on July 30, according to the Dallas-Fort Worth sector of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Another woman reportedly smashed a coffee mug with scalding liquid into Siddiqui’s face. After the attack, Siddiqui was taken out of her cell in a wheelchair and then forced into solitary confinement, said CAIR Executive Director Faizan Syed.

Supporters have called for her release for years. In 2016, supporters gathered in front of the federal courthouse in downtown Fort Worth to demand proof that she was still alive and that she be released and returned to Pakistan.

In response to questions about Siddiqui’s allegations, the Bureau of Prisons said, “For privacy, safety, and security reasons, we do not comment on anecdotal allegations or discuss the conditions of confinement, or health status, for any inmate.”

Who is Aafia Siddiqui?

Siddiqui’s case is convoluted and filled with contradictions. A neuroscientist, Siddiqui graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In the ‘90s, she lived in the Boston area, and she moved back to Pakistan in 2002.

In Pakistan, she is widely portrayed as a heroine and martyr. Her family and supporters say the mother of three was falsely accused and used as a scapegoat in the “war on terror” after 9/11. In 2018, the Senate of Pakistan unanimously passed a resolution to take up the matter of Siddiqui’s freedom with the U.S., referring to her as “the Daughter of the Nation.”

U.S. authorities say she is a dangerous terrorist with ties to the ringleader of 9/11. Counter-terrorism groups have dubbed her “Lady al-Qaida,” and U.S. officials once described her as “the most wanted woman in the world.” The U.S. government has refused to trade her for American hostages multiple times, including for journalist James Foley prior to his execution by ISIS.

According to an appeal filed by Siddiqui’s lawyer in 2014, Siddiqui was kidnapped by Pakistani police in 2003. She was held in the custody of Pakistani and/or American security forces for five years and subjected to physical and psychological torture at the Bagram Detention Center north of Kabul, the attorney said.

According to the Department of Justice, Siddiqui was on the run for those five years, and she detained in Afghanistan in 2008. Officers who searched her found documents about the creation of explosives, descriptions of American landmarks and sealed bottles of chemicals, according to a press release about her arrest. While in the Afghan facility, U.S. Army officers said Sidiqqui grabbed a rifle from an officer, pointed it at a captain and yelled, “May the blood of [unintelligible] be directly on your [unintelligible, possibly head or hands].”

An interpreter lunged at her and pushed the rifle away as Siddiqui pulled the trigger, according to the DOJ. Siddiqui fired at least two shots but did not hit anyone. An Army officer shot Siddqui in the torso.

Syed, who spoke with the Star-Telegram about Siddiqui in September, said her case is one example of how Islamophobia rose dramatically after the September 11 terror attacks. He said Islamophobia became a “political tool” that was used in cases like Siddiquis.

In an interview in Septermber, Syed said based on CAIR’s work on Siddiqui’s case, he believes she is innocent. He hopes more officials demand Siddiqui’s release.

“I really hope one day, the U.S. is able to get her back to her family and get her the mental health help she needs,” he told the Star-Telegram at the time.

The intense Islamaphobia in the decade after 9/11 tainted the jury and the judge against Siddiqui, he said. Siddiqui was declared mentally impaired by a psychologist at Carswell, but the diagnosis was later thrown out after further evaluation.

“The whole example of Dr. Aafia is one of the biggest cases of injustice that is blatant and obvious,” Syed said. “The sin of that is still going on with her being incarcerated and the (prison) cannot even keep her safe. Why she is still being held is beyond me, and it is a stain on the United States and its reputation.”

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