Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani prisoner in the United States whose release was reportedly demanded this weekend by a Texan hostage-taker, who is serving an 86-year sentence for the attempted murder of American soldiers. After more than ten hours of stalemate at a synagogue in the US state, four people were released unharmed on Sunday. A man suspected of being their captor was killed. Media, quoting a US official briefed on the matter, reported that the man was calling for the release of 49-year-old Siddiqui.
According to her lawyer, she had ‘absolutely no involvement’ in the hostage situation, and she condemned the hostage-taker’s actions. A US-educated Pakistani scientist, she was jailed in 2010 for attacking American soldiers in Afghanistan. US authorities suspected her of having Al-Qaeda ties, but she was never found guilty. Siddiqui moved to the US when she was 18 years old to study at Boston’s prestigious MIT, earning her Ph.D. in neuroscience at Brandeis University after she graduated.
She came up on the FBI’s radar after the 9/11 terrorist attacks of 2001 for giving to Islamic organizations and for buying $10,000 worth of night-vision goggles and books on warfare. After returning to Pakistan, she married Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s family, the architect of the 9/11 attacks. She is suspected of joining Al-Qaeda from America. Around 2003, she disappeared in Karachi along with her three children. Five years later, she appeared in Pakistan’s war-torn neighbor Afghanistan, where she was taken away by local forces in Ghazni, a restive province in southeastern Pakistan.
‘Death to America’
When US forces interrogated her, she grabbed a rifle and opened fire, yelling ‘Death to America’ and ‘I want to kill Americans’. In the aftermath of her imprisonment, Al-Qaeda’s then number two urged Muslims to avenge the decision. Although the soldiers escaped unharmed, she was injured. Her imprisonment sparked outrage in her home country, and her supporters claim she was the victim of a secret Pakistan-US plot.
In the past hostages’ crises in Pakistan, as well as the capture of American journalist James Foley by the Islamic State in 2014, militants have demanded that she be released. In Pakistan, Siddiqui is a big name — many consider her to be an innocent victim, according to South Asia analyst Michael Kugelman.
According to him, she was a cause celebre among terrorists, as well as a ‘powerful symbol of how poorly Americans treat innocent Muslims in the global campaign against terror’. Pakistan and the US have been at odds over this issue for decades. The Pakistani prime minister, who has been an open critic of US action in connection with the war on terror, promised to get her released during his election campaign. He offered to free Shakeel Afridi, who is being held in Pakistan for his role in helping Americans find Al-Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan.
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