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The strange story of Aafia Siddiqui

August 6, 2008

Information about her family background has been highlighted…

“Daily Times Lahore

Monday, November 01, 2004

By Khalid Hasan

WASHINGTON: Aafia Siddiqi, the highly-qualified 29-year old Pakistani cognitive neuroscientist wanted by the FBI for her alleged membership of Al Qaeda, once flew from Quetta to Monrovia, Liberia’s capital, on a gem-smuggling assignment.

According to a detailed profile published by a Boston magazine, until the FBI called her a terrorist, she was living a “normal” life in Boston with her children and her doctor husband. In reality, the article by Katherine Ozment says, she was a “high-profile Al Qaeda operative”. She often travelled to Monrovia on her secret missions and would be driven to Hotel Boulevard, where other Al Qaeda figures had stayed, and “taken good care of until the deal was done”. The man who would drive her from the airport to the hotel, a 60-minute drive, would later become the chief informant in a United Nations-led investigation. He described her as a quiet woman who wore a traditional headscarf and kept mostly to herself. She spent the week holed up in her room, making trips into town for small errands.

On one of her trips to Monrovia in June 2001, she left as quietly as she had entered, but with a large parcel containing gems from Africa’s illegal diamond trade. They would be used as a convenient, hard-to-trace way of funding Al Qaeda’s global terror operations. She was not seen again in Monrovia, but earlier this year, one of the men who had seen her in Liberia noticed a photograph of her and recognised the person. At a news conference in May this year, US Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller announced that the FBI was looking for seven people with suspected ties to Al Qaeda. MIT graduate and former Boston resident Aafia Siddiqui was the only woman on the list. After her photos appeared on television, the informant picked up the phone and dialled investigators at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, which is examining Africa’s illegal diamond trade. The informant was convinced that the woman in the photographs was the woman who had come to Liberia.

Her family denies she was ever in Liberia, with her family’s attorney, Elaine Whitfield insisting, “Aafia Siddiqui was here in June 2001. And I can prove it.” If she can prove Siddiqui wasn’t in Liberia that week, she’ll damage one of the most puzzling cases of alleged terrorism to emerge from 9/11. The claim that Siddiqui was involved in diamond trading is another in a series of sometimes surprising, sometimes vague accusations by government officials. In Siddiqui’s case, the allegations have been further clouded by the often inaccurate, even hyperbolic descriptions of her by the media, says the article.

“To those who knew her, Aafia Siddiqui was a kind, quiet woman living the normal life of a Pakistani expat in Boston. To the FBI, which displayed her photograph at that press conference in May, she was a suspected terrorist with ties to a chief mastermind of 9/11 – and the knowledge, skills, and intention to continue Al Qaeda’s terror war in the United States and abroad. Could one woman embody such diametrically opposed identities? Who is the real Aafia Siddiqui? And where has she gone?” the writer asks.

Born in Karachi on March 2, 1972, Aafia was one of three children of Mohammad Siddiqui, a doctor trained in England, and Ismet, a homemaker. Mohammed, Aafia’s brother, is an architect living in Houston with his wife, a paediatrician, and their children. Fowzia, Aafia’s sister, is a Harvard-trained neurologist who was working at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore until she decided to go back to Pakistan. Aafia was a graduate of MIT. She moved to Texas in 1990 to be near her brother and had good enough grades after spending a year at the University of Houston to transfer to MIT. Siddiqui’s fellow students say she was a quiet, studious woman who was devout in her religious beliefs but not a fundamentalist. She often wore a headscarf but didn’t cover her face.

While at MIT Siddiqui apparently joined an association for Muslim students. She wrote three guides for members who wanted to teach others about Islam. On the group’s website, Siddiqui explained how to run a daw’ah table, an informational booth used at school events to educate people about, and persuade them to convert to, Islam. Other references, however, reveal a passion for Islam that could be called hardline. In one of her pamphlets she wrote, “May Allah give this strength and sincerity to us so that our humble effort continues, and expands until America becomes a Muslim land.”

Her husband Amjad Khan turns out to have been more fundamentalist in his religious beliefs than her and wanted to return to Pakistan to raise the children in an “Islamic” way while Aafia wanted to stay in America. According to Hasan Abbas, now a visiting scholar at Harvard Law School and the author of the recently published ‘Pakistan’s Drift into Extremism’, remembers the story of the couple’s marital troubles differently. He was told she was more extreme in her views than her husband. Siddiqui ordered the Quran and other Islamic books to be distributed to prisons and on school campuses. Boxes of them would arrive at the local mosque, and she would come pick them up. Siddiqui’s missionary work stemmed from her belief that it was her duty to bolster the Muslim community around her. “She was always very frustrated here that Muslims were not addressing the needs of their community,” says a woman who was a student of Siddiqui’s. “She said we needed to be doing more to help our people and that we needed to address the needs of the community.” She says Siddiqui wanted her husband to use his medical skills to help the less fortunate.

In July 2001, two Saudi nationals, Abdullah Al Reshood and Hatem Al Dhahri, took over Khan and Siddiqui’s lease when the couple decided to move. During that time, Al Reshood received a $20,000 wire transfer from the Saudi government. The money, a Saudi official later explained, was sent by the Saudi government to Al Reshood to pay for medical treatment for his wife. Siddiqui and her husband were by now being watched by the FBI for having used a debit card to buy night-vision goggles, body armour, and military manuals from American websites, and for donating to charities the FBI watches closely. When questioned, Khan told authorities he had purchased the military items for big-game hunting in Pakistan, saying goggles and armour weren’t available there. Siddiqui, who was questioned only incidentally, was quickly released. Shortly after that, citing the difficulty of living as Muslims in the United States after 9/11, the couple returned to Pakistan. They stayed in Pakistan for a short time, then returned to the United States. They remained here until 2002, then moved back to Pakistan. The tension between the couple had continued to grow and finally reached breaking point in August 2002. Siddiqui was eight months pregnant with their third child, and she and Khan were now estranged. She and the children stayed at her mother’s house, while Khan lived elsewhere in Karachi.

One day, Khan came over to Aafia’s parents’ house bearing a letter explaining that he was going to divorce Siddiqui. He started reading the letter, and a heated argument began between Khan and Siddiqui’s parents. The fight was too much for Siddiqui’s father who had a heart attack and died. Within weeks, Siddiqui gave birth to a son. Siddiqui stayed at her mother’s house for the rest of the year, returning to the United States without her children around December 2002 to look for a job in the Baltimore area, where her sister had begun working at Sinai Hospital. The real purpose of her trip, the FBI suspects, was to open a post office box for Majid Khan, a purported Al Qaeda operative who allegedly had plans to blow up gas stations and fuel tanks in the Baltimore-Washington area. Siddiqui’s family contends that her trip to Baltimore was for the sole purpose of finding a job, and that if she did open a post office box it was for the replies she hoped to get.

According to the article, “Months later, the FBI would make its most devastating claim against Siddiqui. It was still dark on the morning of March 1, 2003, when Pakistani authorities arrested Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a known September 11 mastermind, at a Karachi safe house. The arrest made news around the world. It also presaged the extraordinary vanishing act of Aafia Siddiqui and her three small children.” It seems Khalid Sheikh Mohammed gave up Aafia’s name as being a major Al Qaeda operative.” However, one of her defenders says Siddiqui’s identity was likely stolen. “Aafia was, I think, probably a pretty naive and trusting person and my guess is it would be pretty easy for somebody who wanted to steal an identity to just steal it.” About a month after his capture in the spring of 2003, she disappeared. The last her mother remembers, Siddiqui was piling herself and her children, then seven, five, and six months old, into a taxi headed to the railway station, the first step of what she said was her planned trip to visit an uncle in Islamabad. Her mother said goodbye to her daughter and grandchildren – and hasn’t seen them since.

“What happened to Aafia Siddiqui and her children that day is anyone’s guess. Siddiqui’s mother, Ismet, claims that a few days after Siddiqui’s disappearance, a man on a motorcycle arrived at her house in a leather suit and helmet and told her Aafia was being held and that she should keep quiet if she ever wanted to see her daughter and grandchildren again. A report in the Pakistani Urdu press said that Siddiqui and her kids had been seen being picked up by Pakistani authorities and taken into custody. Even a spokesman for Pakistan’s Interior Ministry and two unnamed US officials confirmed this in the press. Several days later, however, Pakistani and American officials mysteriously backtracked, saying it was unlikely that Siddiqui was in custody. Ismet, hysterical, decided to board a plane to the United States in an attempt to find her daughter. When official-looking men greeted her at JFK Airport in New York, she thought they were there to help her find her daughter,” according to the article. Siddiqui’s sister Fowzia picked up Ismet and took her back to Baltimore. There was a knock at the door. It was the FBI serving a subpoena for Ismet Siddiqui to come to Boston to testify before a grand jury. In the days after Ismet was served the subpoena, she, Fowzia, and her son Mohammed all spoke at length with agents from the FBI and US Attorney’s Office. Aafia Siddiqui had been missing for more than a year when the FBI put her photographs on its website. It was May 26, and Ashcroft and Mueller told the press that Siddiqui was an Al Qaeda facilitator.

According to the article, the “rumour among well-informed Pakistanis” is that she is dead. If Siddiqui was captured, why would she be killed? Generally, terrorism suspects are captured and paraded before the press to show that the government is doing its job. The fact that Siddiqui has been missing so long does not bode well for her reappearance. And the children? “One thing is clear so far,” Muzamal Suherwardy says. “Where she is, her children are there with her.”

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. August 6, 2008 5:27 pm

    It seems as baseless as war on terror ….

  2. August 6, 2008 7:15 pm

    Every artist was first an amateur.RalphWaldoEmersonRalph Waldo Emerson

  3. Ayesha permalink
    August 7, 2008 11:52 am

    Nayni: Everyone knows this!

  4. August 7, 2008 12:13 pm

    The story is too mysterious – she has definetely been mistreated – that one can see – but why did they mistreat her like this – that I cant understand.

  5. Ayesha permalink
    August 7, 2008 12:29 pm

    It’s the same old tactic of investigation and war. The enemy would never keep you like flowers. In order to elicit information they use horrendous techniques.
    And there are too many loop holes in the offical version. It’s sure she was kidnapped by ISI intially and then handed over to US authorities.

  6. ms. Ghazal permalink
    August 9, 2008 10:23 am

    we protest that a muslim women is arrested and handed over to USA. what will they do, everybody knows they will not gonna keep her in a garden.

  7. Qaisar permalink
    August 13, 2008 9:49 pm

    just fake, rubbish, cruel and inhuman concocted story…American people and not the US Government should take the notice…..same can happen with the US citizen……Just ask them….how much terrorism has been reduced by the ‘war on terror’? infact increased and will keep on mounting. it can only be eroded by ending poverty and injustice. justice leads to peace and success.

  8. bisma mughal permalink
    August 29, 2008 5:24 pm

    Allah ap pa apni rehmat bejy.u r areal muslim Aafia.aj sub musalman ap k mujrim ha jino ne ap ko kafir darindo k hawally kia.kash Allah hmary is jurm pa hm sub ko maff farmaiy.ap jihad ma ho .or jihadi ki manzil aik true muslim se ziada koi nai janta. jino ne ap ko in zalimo k hawally kia ha un ka injam jald hi dunya dekhy gi.Allah or Piyary Nabi Pak saw ap pa reham farmaiy.or dunya k shaidai musalmano ki ankhey kholy.amin

  9. Naina permalink
    September 10, 2008 4:07 pm

    God knows well.But v r da mujrimz.Y pakistanis are dead.Jo humny unhen U.S k hawaly kiya.Americans are da janwarz…

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