(New York, N.Y.) — Aafia Siddiqui, the radical Islamist imprisoned since 2008, has become a rallying cry amongst Islamists and jihadist militants around the world. The most recent example came this past weekend when Malik Faisal Akram took four people hostage at a Texas synagogue. While the details regarding Siddiqui’s influence on the hostage situation are still developing, investigators suspect Akram may have been motivated by a desire to have Siddiqui released from a federal prison located 24 miles from the synagogue, as well as antisemitic beliefs.
Siddiqui, a U.S.-educated neuroscientist suspected of belonging to an al-Qaeda cell in Pakistan, was found guilty in federal court of 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. During her trial, Siddiqui had frequent antisemitic outbursts and demanded her jurors be given “genetic testing” to determine who among them was Jewish because, she claimed, she could not receive a fair trial from Jewish jurors. Siddiqui was convicted in 2010 and sentenced to 86 years in a U.S. federal prison.
Since her incarceration, Siddiqui has attained what media and analysts have called “superstar” status among terror groups, NGOs, and in her native Pakistan. In 2010, then-Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and other Pakistani politicians lobbied the United States for Siddiqui’s release and reportedly paid for Siddiqui’s legal fees. In 2019, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan repeated the government’s call for Siddiqui’s release. This past October, protesters rallied in Pakistan and in Washington, D.C., calling for Siddiqui’s release.
Akram’s decision to target a synagogue is part of an increasing number of violent antisemitic attacks in the United States and around the world. According to the FBI, 58 percent of reported religiously motivated hate crimes in 2020 were directed against Jews. Antisemitic attacks decreased in 2020 compared with 2019, but Jews remained the most targeted religious group in the country and the third largest target of hate crimes out of all minorities in the entire country. Historically, antisemitism has stemmed from a fear of Jewish power—from the historic blood libel to allegations of Jewish control over global financial systems. Conspiracies about Jewish control and power grew as Jews gained economic and political rights in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Recent perpetrators of violent antisemitic attacks—such as in Pittsburgh and Poway—continue to blame Jews for what they consider the ruination of society.
To read the Counter Extremism Project (CEP)’s resource Aafia Siddiqui, please click here.
To read CEP’s resource Antisemitism Resurgent: Manifestations of Antisemitism in the 21st Century, please click here.