Aafia Siddiqui

Aafia Siddiqui is a Pakistani citizen and U.S.-educated neuroscientist who allegedly belonged to an al-Qaeda cell in Pakistan. She is currently serving an 86-year sentence in U.S. federal prison for assaulting U.S. federal agents, employees, and nationals during a 2008 interrogation in Afghanistan.“Aafia Siddiqui Sentenced in Manhattan Federal Court to 86 Years for Attempting to Murder U.S. Nationals in Afghanistan and Six Additional Crimes,” U.S. Department of Justice, September 23, 2010, https://www.justice.gov/archive/usao/nys/pressreleases/September10/siddiquiaafiasentencingpr.pdf; David Ingram, “Pakistani woman embraced by Islamic State seeks to drop U.S. legal appeal,” Reuters, September 18, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-courts-siddiqui-idUSKBN0HD0DR20140918. The Pakistani government has lobbied for her release while al-Qaeda and other extremist groups have repeatedly demanded Siddiqui’s release in exchange for hostages.Dean Nelson and Raf Sanchez, “‘Free British hostages’ say family of Isil poster girl,” Telegraph (London), September 19, 2014, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iraq/11109612/Free-British-hostages-say-family-of-Isil-poster-girl.html; Holly McKay, “Pakistani PM opens door to prisoner swap with US to free ‘hero’ doctor who helped track bin Laden,” Fox News, July 23, 2019, https://www.foxnews.com/politics/pakistan-pm-prisoner-doctor-laden.

Born in Pakistan in 1972, Siddiqui moved to the United States in 1990 on a student visa. She attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and then Brandeis University, earning a PhD in neuroscience.Declan Walsh, “The mystery of Dr Aafia Siddiqui,” Guardian (London), November 23, 2009, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/nov/24/aafia-siddiqui-al-qaida. Siddiqui’s radicalization began while she was studying in Massachusetts, which coincided with the Bosnian civil war. During her sophomore year, Siddiqui won a $5,000 grant for a research project on “Islamization in Pakistan and its Effects on Women.” She briefly returned to Pakistan to conduct research. In 1993, Siddiqui volunteered with the Muslim Students Association (MSA) to fundraise for the Al-Kifah Refugee Center, which was later revealed to be a charitable front for al-Qaeda with links to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Al-Kifa’s messaging blamed the United States for the suffering of Bosnian Muslims. Siddiqui began to encourage other students to travel abroad to take up arms on behalf of Bosnian Muslims. She took shooting lessons at a local gun club and encouraged other MSA members to join her. Other students recalled Siddiqui criticizing the United States and the FBI during a visit.Sally Jacobs, “The woman ISIS wanted back,” Boston Globe, December 28, 2014, https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2014/12/27/aafia/T1A0evotz4pbEf5U3vfLKJ/story.html.

In 1995, Siddiqui married Mohammed Amjad Khan, a doctor from Karachi, Pakistan. The couple lived in Boston while Khan finished her schooling. Khan later told the Boston Globe that he stopped bringing guests to the couple’s home because Siddiqui would try to convert them to Islam. The couple attended the Islamic Society of Boston’s Prospect Street mosque, whose attendees later included Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Siddiqui increasingly blamed the United States for the suffering of Muslims around the world. Khan told the Globe that Siddiqui began watching Islamist propaganda videos online and training to go overseas. By the time Siddiqui finished her doctoral dissertation in 2001, she had become focused on “jihad against America,” according to Khan.Sally Jacobs, “The woman ISIS wanted back,” Boston Globe, December 28, 2014, https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2014/12/27/aafia/T1A0evotz4pbEf5U3vfLKJ/story.html. In May 2002, FBI agents questioned the couple about online purchases of night vision goggles, body armor, and military books.Declan Walsh, “The mystery of Dr Aafia Siddiqui,” Guardian (London), November 23, 2009, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/nov/24/aafia-siddiqui-al-qaida.

Khan and Siddiqui moved to Pakistan in June 2002. They divorced that August before the birth of their third child.Declan Walsh, “The mystery of Dr Aafia Siddiqui,” Guardian (London), November 23, 2009, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/nov/24/aafia-siddiqui-al-qaida; “Aafia Siddiqui Indicted for Attempting to Kill United States Nationals in Afghanistan and Six Additional Charges,” U.S. Department of Justice, September 2, 2008, https://www.justice.gov/archive/opa/pr/2008/September/08-nsd-765.html. Siddiqui then allegedly became involved with an al-Qaeda cell in Karachi led by 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) that was planning attacks on the United States, Pakistan, and Great Britain. That December, Siddiqui returned to the United States for 10 days under the pretense of applying for academic positions, leaving her three children in Pakistan with her mother. Siddiqui opened a U.S. post office box under the name of al-Qaeda agent Majid Khan, another member of Siddiqui’s cell.Gordon Rayner, Bill Gardner, Tom Whitehead, and Ben Farmer, “Alan Henning charity campaigned for release of ‘Lady al-Qaeda’ Aafia Siddiqui,” Telegraph (London), September 16, 2014, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/terrorism-in-the-uk/11099969/Alan-Henning-charity-campaigned-for-release-of-Lady-al-Qaeda-Aafia-Siddiqui.html; Declan Walsh, “The mystery of Dr Aafia Siddiqui,” Guardian (London), November 23, 2009, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/nov/24/aafia-siddiqui-al-qaida. Khan was arrested in Pakistan in 2003 and named Siddiqui as an accomplice during subsequent CIA interrogations.Jason Ryan, “Alleged Maryland Al Qaeda Operative for Second Wave 9/11 Attacks Pleads Guilty,” February 29, 2012, http://abcnews.go.com/International/alleged-maryland-al-qaeda-operative-wave-911-attacks/story?id=15814121.

In early 2003 in Pakistan, Siddiqui married Ammar al-Baluchi, a nephew of KSM.“Aafia Siddiqui Forensic Psychological Evaluation,” IntelWire, accessed March 4, 2020,, 3, http://intelfiles.egoplex.com/2009-07-01-Siddiqui-psych-report.pdf; Declan Walsh, “The mystery of Dr Aafia Siddiqui,” Guardian (London), November 23, 2009, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/nov/24/aafia-siddiqui-al-qaida. According to interrogations of multiple prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Siddiqui’s cell planned to attack U.S. economic targets using explosives smuggled into the country disguised as clothing imports. According to an FBI-Joint Terrorism Taskforce report on co-conspirator and Guantanamo inmate Saifullah Paracha, Siddiqui responsible for renting houses and providing administrative support for the operation.“The Guantanamo Docket: Saifullah Paracha: JTF-GTMO Assessment,” New York Times, accessed March 4, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/guantanamo/detainees/1094-saifullah-paracha During interrogations following his 2003 capture, KSM named Siddiqui as an al-Qaeda courier.Gordon Rayner, Bill Gardner, Tom Whitehead, and Ben Farmer, “Alan Henning charity campaigned for release of ‘Lady al-Qaeda’ Aafia Siddiqui,” Telegraph (London), September 16, 2014, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/terrorism-in-the-uk/11099969/Alan-Henning-charity-campaigned-for-release-of-Lady-al-Qaeda-Aafia-Siddiqui.html.

Siddiqui reportedly disappeared in March 2003 after the FBI issued a global alert for her and her ex-husband Khan for questioning about possible contacts with Osama bin Laden. Siddiqui was last seen entering a taxi with her three children in Karachi.Declan Walsh, “The mystery of Dr Aafia Siddiqui,” Guardian (London), November 23, 2009, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/nov/24/aafia-siddiqui-al-qaida; Associated Press, “Pakistani Woman Wanted by FBI,” Plainview Daily Herald, April 22, 2003, https://www.myplainview.com/news/article/Pakistani-Woman-Wanted-by-FBI-9118686.php. According to Khan, Siddiqui was hiding in Pakistan.Salman Masood and Carlotta Gall, “U.S. Sees a Terror Threat; Pakistanis See a Heroine,” New York Times, March 5, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/06/world/asia/06pstan.html. Shortly after, Baluchi was captured and transferred to the U.S. facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.“Aafia Siddiqui Forensic Psychological Evaluation,” IntelWire, accessed March 4, 2020, 3, http://intelfiles.egoplex.com/2009-07-01-Siddiqui-psych-report.pdf; Declan Walsh, “The mystery of Dr Aafia Siddiqui,” Guardian (London), November 23, 2009, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/nov/24/aafia-siddiqui-al-qaida. In May 2004, the FBI named Siddiqui as one of its seven most wanted al-Qaeda fugitives.Sally Jacobs, “The woman ISIS wanted back,” Boston Globe, December 28, 2014, https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2014/12/27/aafia/T1A0evotz4pbEf5U3vfLKJ/story.html. But Siddiqui’s family alleges that Pakistani intelligence turned Siddiqui over to U.S. authorities in 2003.Salman Masood and Carlotta Gall, “U.S. Sees a Terror Threat; Pakistanis See a Heroine,” New York Times, March 5, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/06/world/asia/06pstan.html. Siddiqui and various advocacy organizations claim U.S. agents kidnapped and imprisoned Siddiqui at a secret U.S. prison at Afghanistan’s Bagram airfield. Siddiqui claims that she was interrogated, tortured, and held in solitary confinement there for five years.Juliane von Mittelstaedt, “America’s Most Wanted,” Spiegel Online, November 27, 2008, http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/america-s-most-wanted-the-most-dangerous-woman-in-the-world-a-593195.html. In April 2003, NBC News reported that Siddiqui had been arrested in Pakistan,Juliane von Mittelstaedt, “America’s Most Wanted,” Spiegel Online, November 27, 2008, http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/america-s-most-wanted-the-most-dangerous-woman-in-the-world-a-593195.html; Aafia Movement, “NBC News April 2003 arrest of Dr. Aafia,” DailyMotion video, January 30, 2013, accessed March 4, 2020, http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xx5q4d_nbc-news-april-2003-arrest-of-dr-aafia_news. but no other information on her capture could be determined. Other prisoners from Bagram reported a female inmate in solitary confinement whose screams could be heard throughout the facility. The inmates nicknamed the woman the “gray lady of Bagram.”Juliane von Mittelstaedt, “America’s Most Wanted,” Spiegel Online, November 27, 2008, http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/america-s-most-wanted-the-most-dangerous-woman-in-the-world-a-593195.html; Suzanne Goldenberg and Saeed Shah, “Mystery of ‘ghost of Bagram’ – victim of torture or captured in a shootout?” Guardian (London), August 5, 2008, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/aug/06/pakistan.afghanistan. U.S. officials deny Siddiqui’s account, though it appears to be widely accepted in Pakistan where Siddiqui is heralded as a hero.Salman Masood and Carlotta Gall, “U.S. Sees a Terror Threat; Pakistanis See a Heroine,” New York Times, March 5, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/06/world/asia/06pstan.html.

Siddiqui resurfaced in January 2008 when she allegedly sought the help of her uncle, S.H. Faruqi, in reaching out to the Taliban, according to Faruqi.Salman Masood and Carlotta Gall, “U.S. Sees a Terror Threat; Pakistanis See a Heroine,” New York Times, March 5, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/06/world/asia/06pstan.html. On July 17, 2008, Afghan authorities arrested and detained Siddiqui and her then-11-year-old son outside the Ghazni province governor’s compound. Siddiqui was carrying sodium cyanide, documents detailing the assembly of explosives, and descriptions of various U.S. landmarks, including the Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building.“Aafia Siddiqui Arrested for Attempting to Kill United States Officers in Afghanistan,” U.S. Department of Justice, August 4, 2008, https://www.justice.gov/archive/opa/pr/2008/August/08-nsd-687.html; “Aafia Siddiqui Indicted for Attempting to Kill United States Nationals in Afghanistan and Six Additional Charges,” U.S. Department of Justice, September 2, 2008, https://www.justice.gov/archive/opa/pr/2008/September/08-nsd-765.html; Shane Harris, “Lady al Qaeda: The World’s Most Wanted Woman,” Foreign Policy, August 26, 2014, https://foreignpolicy.com/2014/08/26/lady-al-qaeda-the-worlds-most-wanted-woman/; “US jails Pakistani scientist for 86 years,” BBC News, September 23, 2010, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-11401865. The following day, a group of U.S. Army officers, FBI agents, and Army-contracted interpreters sought to interrogate Siddiqui at an Afghan police compound. According to the charges against Siddiqui, during the interrogation, Siddiqui grabbed the M-4 rifle of a U.S. Army officer and shot at another Army officer. Siddiqui then assaulted an Army interpreter who tried to wrestle the rifle away, and assaulted the FBI agents and Army officers who tried to subdue her.“Aafia Siddiqui Sentenced in Manhattan Federal Court to 86 Years for Attempting to Murder U.S. Nationals in Afghanistan and Six Additional Crimes,” U.S. Department of Justice, September 23, 2010, https://www.justice.gov/archive/usao/nys/pressreleases/September10/siddiquiaafiasentencingpr.pdf; Basil Katz, “Pakistani scientist loses appeal on shooting conviction,” Reuters, November 5, 2012, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-security-appeals-idUSBRE8A41L120121105. No U.S. officials were injured, but Siddiqui was shot in the stomach during the struggle and underwent emergency surgery at Afghanistan’s Bagram airfield.Declan Walsh, “The mystery of Dr Aafia Siddiqui,” Guardian (London), November 23, 2009, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/nov/24/aafia-siddiqui-al-qaida. Siddiqui was transferred to the United States the following month.“Aafia Siddiqui Sentenced in Manhattan Federal Court to 86 Years for Attempting to Murder U.S. Nationals in Afghanistan and Six Additional Crimes,” U.S. Department of Justice, September 23, 2010, https://www.justice.gov/archive/usao/nys/pressreleases/September10/siddiquiaafiasentencingpr.pdf.

In September 2008, the U.S. government indicted Siddiqui on charges of attempting to kill U.S. nationals outside the United States; attempting to kill U.S. officers and employees; armed assault of U.S. officers and employees; using and carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence; and three counts of assault of U.S. officers and employees.“Aafia Siddiqui Indicted for Attempting to Kill United States Nationals in Afghanistan and Six Additional Charges,” U.S. Department of Justice, September 2, 2008, https://www.justice.gov/archive/opa/pr/2008/September/08-nsd-765.html. On February 3, 2010, Following a two-week trial in New York City, Siddiqui was convicted of all charges against her. She was never charged with terrorism-related offenses.“Aafia Siddiqui Sentenced in Manhattan Federal Court to 86 Years for Attempting to Murder U.S. Nationals in Afghanistan and Six Additional Crimes,” U.S. Department of Justice, September 23, 2010, https://www.justice.gov/archive/usao/nys/pressreleases/September10/siddiquiaafiasentencingpr.pdf; “Aafia Siddiqui Found Guilty in Manhattan Federal Court,” U.S. Department of Justice, February 3, 2010, https://www.justice.gov/archive/usao/nys/pressreleases/February10/siddiquiaafiaverdictpr.pdf; David Ingram, “Pakistani woman embraced by Islamic State seeks to drop U.S. legal appeal,” Reuters, September 18, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-courts-siddiqui-idUSKBN0HD0DR20140918. Thousands protested across Pakistan following her conviction.“Pakistanis protest Terror Mom verdict,” New York Post, February 4, 2010, http://nypost.com/2010/02/04/pakistanis-protest-terror-mom-verdict/. That September, Siddiqui was sentenced to 86 years in prison.“Aafia Siddiqui Sentenced in Manhattan Federal Court to 86 Years for Attempting to Murder U.S. Nationals in Afghanistan and Six Additional Crimes,” U.S. Department of Justice, September 23, 2010, https://www.justice.gov/archive/usao/nys/pressreleases/September10/siddiquiaafiasentencingpr.pdf.

Since her incarceration, Siddiqui has attained what media and analysts have called “superstar” status among terror groups, NGOs, and in her native Pakistan.Carol J. Williams, “Islamic State has offered to trade hostages for imprisoned ‘superstar,’” Los Angeles Times, September 19, 2004, http://www.latimes.com/world/middleeast/la-fg-islamic-state-siddiqui-20140919-story.html. In 2010, Pakistani public outcry led then-Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and other Pakistani politicians to, unsuccessfully, lobby for Siddiqui’s release. Gilani described Siddiqui as a “daughter of the nation.”Salman Masood and Carlotta Gall, “U.S. Sees a Terror Threat; Pakistanis See a Heroine,” New York Times, March 5, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/06/world/asia/06pstan.html. The Pakistani government reportedly paid for Siddiqui’s legal fees.Benazir Shah, “The silence of Aafia Siddiqui,” Al Jazeera, July 16, 2015, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2015/07/silence-aafia-siddiqui-150714120601502.html. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan called for Siddiqui’s release in 2019.Holly McKay, “Pakistani PM opens door to prisoner swap with US to free 'hero' doctor who helped track bin Laden,” Fox News, July 23, 2019, https://www.foxnews.com/politics/pakistan-pm-prisoner-doctor-laden. Executed ISIS hostage Alan Henning worked for the British charity Aid4Syria, which has lobbied for Siddiqui’s release. The charity has also named projects after her, such as the “Afia Siddiqui Fire Brigade” and “Aafia Siddiqui Water Project.”Rukmini Callimachi and Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura, “ISIS releases video of execution of British aid worker,” New York Times, October 3, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/04/world/middleeast/islamic-state-releases-video-of-execution-of-alan-henning-british-aid-worker.html; Gordon Rayner, Bill Gardner, Tom Whitehead, and Ben Farmer, “Alan Henning charity campaigned for release of ‘Lady al-Qaeda’ Aafia Siddiqui,” Telegraph (London), September 16, 2014, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/terrorism-in-the-uk/11099969/Alan-Henning-charity-campaigned-for-release-of-Lady-al-Qaeda-Aafia-Siddiqui.html.

Multiple extremist groups have offered to trade hostages for Siddiqui. In 2012, the Taliban offered to trade captured U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl.Shane Harris, “Lady al Qaeda: The World’s Most Wanted Woman,” Foreign Policy, August 26, 2014, http://foreignpolicy.com/2014/08/26/lady-al-qaeda-the-worlds-most-wanted-woman/. That year, al-Qaeda also offered to release hostages in exchange for Siddiqui and other U.S. prisoners.Raisa Bruner, “Warren Weinstein’s Wife Pleads for His Release,” ABC News, August 13, 2012, http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/warren-weinsteins-wife-pleads-release/story?id=16994808. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) unsuccessfully sought to exchange hostages for Siddiqui and Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahma, a.k.a. the Blind Sheikh.“Yemen's al Qaeda leader says U.S. refused to trade ‘blind sheikh’ for hostage,” Reuters, March 6, 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-tradecenter-rahman-aqap-idUSKBN16D2BA. In July 2014, ISIS demanded Siddiqui’s release in exchange for captured American aid worker Kayla Mueller, whose family wrote to then-U.S. President Barack Obama asking him to accept the exchange. Mueller died in early 2015.Shane Harris, “Kayla Mueller's Family Asked U.S. to Give ISIS ‘Lady al Qaeda,’” Daily Beast, February 11, 2015, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/02/11/muellers-hoped-kayla-might-be-traded-for-jailed-terrorist-siddiqui.html; Sam Levin, “Isis widow charged for her role in the death of hostage Kayla Mueller,” Guardian (London), February 8, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/08/isis-widow-charged-for-her-role-in-the-death-of-hostage-kayla-meuller. ISIS also offered to exchange American hostages James Foley and Steven Sotloff for Siddiqui.Gordon Rayner, Bill Gardner, Tom Whitehead, and Ben Farmer, “Alan Henning charity campaigned for release of ‘Lady al-Qaeda’ Aafia Siddiqui,” Telegraph (London), September 16, 2014, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/terrorism-in-the-uk/11099969/Alan-Henning-charity-campaigned-for-release-of-Lady-al-Qaeda-Aafia-Siddiqui.html; Brian Ross, Rhonda Schwartz, and James Gordon Meek, “ISIS Demands $6.6M Ransom for 26-Year-Old American Woman,” ABC News, http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/isis-demands-66m-ransom-26-year-american-woman/story?id=25127682. Siddiqui’s family has publicly called on ISIS to release hostages held as bargaining chips for Siddiqui.Dean Nelson and Raf Sanchez, “‘Free British hostages’ say family of Isil poster girl,” Telegraph (London), September 19, 2014, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iraq/11109612/Free-British-hostages-say-family-of-Isil-poster-girl.html.

Siddiqui twice sought to appeal her conviction. In 2012, she argued that her trial had been unfair because the judge had allowed her to decide whether she would take the stand. Siddiqui also argued that prosecutors had used improper evidence. An appeals court rejected her appeal that November.David Ingram, “Pakistani woman embraced by Islamic State seeks to drop U.S. legal appeal,” Reuters, September 18, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-courts-siddiqui-idUSKBN0HD0DR20140918. Siddiqui last filed for appeal in May 2014, arguing that she had not been allowed to change her Pakistan-funded legal team. But that July, she wrote to a federal judge requesting he drop her legal appeal.David Ingram, “Pakistani woman embraced by Islamic State seeks to drop U.S. legal appeal,” Reuters, September 18, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-courts-siddiqui-idUSKBN0HD0DR20140918. A federal judge accepted her request that October, ending Siddiqui’s right to further appeals.David Ingram, “Pakistani woman acclaimed by Islamists allowed to end U.S. appeal,” Reuters, October 9, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-courts-siddiqui-idUSKCN0HY2AF20141009.

In January 2021, Siddiqui began holding multiple meetings with her lawyer, Marwa Elbially of Elbially Law Office, PLLC. On July 30, 2021, another inmate allegedly smashed a coffee mug filled with a hot liquid in Siddiqui’s face in her cell. Elbially reported seeing multiple burns on Siddiqui’s face. Siddiqui was placed in administrative solitary confinement following the incident. That August, the advocacy group CAGE called for Siddiqui’s release.“Aafia Siddiqui calls for public support after enduring serious assault in Texas prison,” CAGE, August 19, 2021, https://www.cage.ngo/aafia-siddiqui-calls-for-public-support-after-enduring-serious-assault-in-texas-prison. Pakistan’s Representatives of Pakistan’s consul general in Houston, Texas, met with Siddiqui after the attack. Pakistan’s Foreign Office filed a complaint with U.S. authorities.Naveed Siddiqui, “Dr Aafia Siddiqui sustained ‘minor injuries’ in assault by fellow inmate in US prison: FO,” Dawn, August 21, 2021, https://www.dawn.com/news/1641831.

Advocates continue to call for Siddiqui’s release. CAGE has issued multiple reports and videos calling for Siddiqui’s release.“Aafia Siddiqui calls for public support after enduring serious assault in Texas prison,” CAGE, August 19, 2021, https://www.cage.ngo/aafia-siddiqui-calls-for-public-support-after-enduring-serious-assault-in-texas-prison. A Facebook group calling for Siddiqui’s freedom has garnered more than 66,000 followers.Free Aafia Siddiqui Facebook group, accessed January 15, 2022, https://www.facebook.com/FreeAafiaSiddiquiNow. On October 20, 2021, members of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Islamic Leadership Council of New York, and approximately 20 other human-rights and religious groups protested outside the Pakistani consulate in New York City calling on the Pakistani government to seek Siddiqui’s repatriation. The organizers planned similar protests in Boston and Washington, D.C.“US protesters demand release and repatriation of Aafia Siddiqui,” Al Jazeera, October 21, 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/10/21/us-pakistan-protests-release-neuroscientist-aafia-siddiqui. Protests calling for Siddiqui’s freedom were also held in Pakistan that month.“Pakistan: Activists call for protest at National Press Club in Islamabad Oct. 7,” GardaWorld, October 6, 2021, https://www.garda.com/crisis24/news-alerts/531856/pakistan-activists-call-for-protest-at-national-press-club-in-islamabad-oct-7; Zia ur-Rehman and Michael Levenson, “Officials Investigating Synagogue Attacker’s Link to 2010 Terror Case,” New York Times, January 17, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/17/world/europe/texas-synagogue-hostages-aafia-siddiqui.html. In December 2021, CAIR’s Dallas-Fort Worth chapter organized a rally at the East Plano Islamic Center (EPIC) featuring speakers from both groups calling for Siddiqui’s release.“In Pursuit of Freedom for Dr. Aafia Siddiqui: EPIC & CAIR-TX,” CAIR-Texas Central-North, accessed January 28, 2022, https://www.cairdfw.org/index.php/component/content/article/213-in-pursuit-of-freedom-for-dr-aafia-siddiqui-epic-cair-tx?catid=9&Itemid=101. In August 2021, CAIR’s chapter in Austin and Dallas-Fort Worth has also created a campaign to raise enough awareness and pressure to have Siddiqui freed.“About the Free Dr. Aafia Movement,” Free Dr. Aaafia Campaign, accessed January 28, 2022, http://www.freedraafia.org/index.php/about. On December 10, that chapter of CAIR organized a legal fund for Siddiqui, which raised $4,150 of a $60,000 goal by its end on January 12, 2022. The campaign called Siddiqui’s case “one of the greatest examples of injustice in U.S. history.”“Free Dr. Aafia Siddiqui Fund,” LaunchGood, accessed January 28, 2022, https://www.launchgood.com/campaign/free_dr_aafia_siddiqui_fund#!/.

In September 2021, radical Islamist preacher Anjem Choudary issued a call on his Telegram channel for Siddiqui’s freedom. He wrote, “The obligation upon us is to either free her physically or to ransom her or to exchange her.”Annabelle Timsit, Souad Mekhennet, and Terrence McCoy, “Who is Aafia Siddiqui? Texas synagogue hostage-taker allegedly sought release of ‘Lady al-Qaeda,’” Washington Post, January 16, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2022/01/16/aafia-siddiqui-texas-synagogue-hostages/. On January 15, 2022, 44-year-old British national Malik Faisal Akram entered the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, during Saturday morning services, which were being livestreamed on the synagogue’s Facebook page. He took at least four hostages and began demanding Siddiqui’s release. An FBI SWAT team was called to the scene. Akram reportedly demanded to speak with Siddiqui.Jake Bleiberg, “Ranting man takes hostages at Texas synagogue,” Associated Press, January 15, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/religion-texas-fort-worth-70bf98670cb880156cf5e1f1e4e08dcd; Alaa Elassar, Michelle Watson, and Alanne Orjoux, “FBI identifies hostage-taker at Texas synagogue,” CNN, January 16, 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/01/16/us/colleyville-texas-hostage-situation-sunday/index.html. In an unconfirmed report to ABC News during the hostage crisis, a U.S. official initially identified the hostage-taker as Siddiqui’s brother.Shelby Tauber and Daphne Psaledakis, “Police respond to "hostage situation" at Texas synagogue,” Reuters, January 15, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/us/police-colleyville-texas-involved-standoff-synagogue-media-2022-01-15/. Police were called to the synagogue by 11 a.m. The attacker reportedly claimed to have a bomb. Multiple people listening to the livestream of the synagogue’s service also reported hearing the attacker refer to Siddiqui as his sister, but a representative of CAIR told the Associated Press that Siddiqui’s brother, Mohammad Siddiqui, was not involved. One hostage was released just after 5 p.m. By 9:30 p.m., all hostages had been released and authorities declared Akram had been killed.Jake Bleiberg, Eric Tucker, and Michael Balsamo, “Hostages safe after standoff inside synagogue; captor dead,” Associated Press, January 15, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/religion-texas-fort-worth-70bf98670cb880156cf5e1f1e4e08dcd; Alaa Elassar, Michelle Watson, and Alanne Orjoux, “FBI identifies hostage-taker at Texas synagogue,” CNN, January 16, 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/01/16/us/colleyville-texas-hostage-situation-sunday/index.html.

Investigators initially suspected Akram may have been motivated by a desire to have Siddiqui released. Siddiqui’s attorney, Elbially, denied Siddiqui had any involvement in the synagogue attack. Elbially said Siddiqui “does not want any violence perpetrated against any human being, especially in her name.”Andy Rose, “Aafia Siddiqui ‘has absolutely no involvement’ in synagogue hostage situation, her attorney says,” CNN, January 15, 2022, https://www.cnn.com/us/live-news/texas-synagogue-hostage-situation/h_bdb43b3cd460d8686fb0352d1a6f08e7. A law enforcement source told media Akram stated during the hostage crisis he knew would die and wanted Siddiqui brought to the synagogue so they could die together.Morgan Rousseau, “Aafia Siddiqui, the federal prisoner at the center of the Texas synagogue hostage situation, has Boston ties,” Boston.com, January 17, 2022, https://www.boston.com/news/local-news/2022/01/17/texas-synagogue-aafia-siddiqui-boston-education/. Congregation Beth Israel is 24 miles from the Federal Medical Center, Carswell, in Fort Worth, where Siddiqui is incarcerated. The FBI continues to investigate the influence of Siddiqui’s case on Akram.Zia ur-Rehman and Michael Levenson, “Officials Investigating Synagogue Attacker’s Link to 2010 Terror Case,” New York Times, January 17, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/17/world/europe/texas-synagogue-hostages-aafia-siddiqui.html. Using the hashtags #FreeAafia and #IAmAafia, a January 19 Facebook post by CAIR Austin and Dallas-Fort Worth executive director Faizan Syed decried inaccurate news coverage of Siddiqui “made to paint a victim of the war on terror as a terrorist.”Faizan Syed Page, Facebook post, January 19, 2022, https://www.facebook.com/FaizanSyedPage/posts/448368146667807.

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