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October 20, 2021 MEMRI Daily Brief No. 327

Emboldened By Taliban Takeover Of Afghanistan, Pro-Islamist Activists Demand Release Of Pakistani Neuroscientist Dr. Aafia Siddiqui Jailed In Texas Over Al-Qaeda Links, Attempted Murder Of U.S. Military Officials

October 20, 2021 | By Tufail Ahmad*
Afghanistan | MEMRI Daily Brief No. 327

After the Afghan Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in mid-August 2021, a new movement is being led by Islamist and pro-Taliban figures in Pakistan as well as in the U.S. and other Western countries for the release of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist imprisoned in the United States for helping Al-Qaeda and, according to an FBI report, "for the attempted murder and assault of U.S. nationals and U.S. officers and employees in Afghanistan."[1]

A charity organization tax-exempt under 501(c)(3), Aafia Foundation Inc., has been established in the United States to free Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, ostensibly in the name of human rights.[2] In 2004, Aafia Siddiqui was described by Robert S. Mueller III, then director of the FBI, as "an Al-Qaeda operative and facilitator."[3] The Justice Department noted that Aafia Siddiqui was "an Al-Qaeda fixer who helped terrorism suspects with travel documents and plots."[4]

When she was imprisoned to begin a sentence of 86 years in 2010, the judge, Richard M. Berman, observed that "significant incarceration" was needed.[5] Siddiqui was arrested in 2008 with "a number of items in her possession, including handwritten notes that referred to a mass casualty attack and that listed various locations in the U.S., including Plum Island, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street, and the Brooklyn Bridge," and instructions for making "dirty bombs" and "ways to attack enemies, including by destroying reconnaissance drones, using underwater bombs..."[6] She is currently serving her 86-year term in a Texas prison.


Protesters demand release of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, currently lodged in a Texas prison

Aafia Siddiqui, who was born in Karachi, studied at prestigious U.S. institutions such as MIT and Brandeis University and became religious after falling under Islamist influence. In a video circulating on social media, she says: "It is my challenge not only to every single person on the face of this planet Earth, but also, if there is any civilization on any other planet, it's my challenge to them as well – that Islam is the best savior and protector for women."[7]

In August 2021, a prominent Al-Qaeda supporter claimed in a message on Telegram that Dr. Aafia Siddiqui had been severely beaten in prison.[8] In September 2021, UK-based pro-Islamic State (ISIS) preacher Anjem Choudary published a post on Telegram in which he announced the launch of a Twitter campaign for Aafia Siddiqui's release. Choudary encouraged supporters to go to the U.S. and free Aafia Siddiqui from prison, stating: "Islamic history is replete with examples of Muslim armies being sent to liberate individual men and women held by non-Islamic regimes and the Messenger Muhammad... has informed us that it is obligatory to free the prisoners."[9]

Choudary was not alone inciting Muslims to free Aafia Siddiqui from the Texas prison. Her sister Fawzia Siddiqui tweeted on August 16, 2021, a copy of a fatwa issued by Pakistani religious scholars that stated: "If a Muslim woman is in the detention of non-Muslims, then it is obligatory upon every Muslim man and woman to struggle in every possible way for her release."[10]


A copy of the fatwa tweeted by Fawzia Siddiqui

On October 8, 2021, tens of thousands of protesters held a rally in Karachi, marching from the Karachi Press Club to the U.S. Consulate where they submitted a memorandum demanding that U.S. President Joe Biden "use the power of his presidential pardon and consider the case of Siddiqui as a victim of the U.S. war on terror."[11] Prominent leaders addressed the rally, including: Fauzia Siddiqui, sister of Aafia Siddiqui; legislator Saeed Afridi from Prime Minister Imran Khan's Tehreek-e-Insaf party; retired justice Wajihuddin Ahmad; Younas Barai, a legislator from Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan; and Aslam Ghouri from Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam.

Similar protests led by religious political parties and jihadi groups in Pakistan have taken place over the years, especially since Aafia Siddiqui was found guilty and imprisoned.[12] In 2010, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a jihadi organization, spoke in favor of Aafia Siddiqui, describing her imprisonment as a challenge to "the honor of Muslim Ummah" and adding that "America has challenged the beliefs and honor of the Muslim Ummah."[13]

In September 2010, a day after Aafia Siddiqui was convicted, Al-Sahab, the media arm of Al-Qaeda, released a video of Taliban terrorists fighting in the Landi Kotal region of Khyber Agency, a Pakistani tribal district. The video was titled "The Aafia Siddiqui Battle – the Mujahideen's Revenge Against the Pakistani Army for Handing Over to America the Ummah's Daughter Aafia Siddiqui."[14] The Pakistani Islamists have alleged that Pakistan captured Aafia Siddiqui and handed her over to Americans in Afghanistan.


In Karachi, police were deployed to prevent the protesters from reaching the U.S. consulate

Although Pakistani groups, sometimes for nationalist reasons and at other times for ideological reasons related to jihadism and Islamism, support Aafia Siddiqui, her involvement with Al-Qaeda has been widely debated in Pakistan, where lawmakers have publicly demanded her release but have privately admitted that she was a security concern even for Pakistan.

Marvi Memon, when she was a member of Pakistan's National Assembly in 2010, refused to join lawmakers for a walkout in support of Aafia Siddiqui. She wrote: "Having heard plenty of evidence corroborating Dr. Aafia Siddiqui's alleged links to CIA and Al-Qaeda, from all those who had held important and relevant posts then and now, it became incumbent on me not to follow the herd. It became necessary for me to call a spade a spade and for that reason I was not part of the National Assembly walkout in her favor. Having said that, I have always maintained that she should be brought back to Pakistan and tried here..."[15]

In the weeks after the Taliban took over Afghanistan on August 15, 2021, events and social media campaigns were organized by Islamist groups worldwide demanding Aafia Siddiqui's release. At an event in Pakistan, Altaf Shakoor, Chairman of the Pasban Democratic Party, told the audience: "How shameful it is that the Afghan War of Terror has come to an end, American and NATO forces have left, 5,000 forces leaving Afghanistan were given safe exit through Pakistan, but Pakistan did nothing for the daughter of the nation, Dr Aafia Siddiqui?"[16]


Sameena Usman of The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) wears yellow in support of Aafia Siddiqui

On Twitter, several campaigns demanding release of Aafia Siddiqui are being run under different hashtags, including: #IAmAafia, #FreeDrAafiaSiddiqui, #BringDrAafiaBack, and #JusticeForAafia. Those demanding Dr. Aafia Siddiqui's release are, generally, pro-Islamist, pro-Taliban, and pro-Al-Qaeda.

However, some leftist activists are also among them. There is an ongoing program of events in front of the National Assembly in Islamabad seeking to pressure the Pakistani government to influence America to free Aafia Siddiqui. One of the campaigns currently underway on social media is to wear yellow on Fridays in support of Aafia Siddiqui, as yellow is a color often used for prison uniforms.

* Tufail Ahmad is Senior Fellow for the MEMRI Islamism and Counter-Radicalization Initiative

 

[1] FBI.Gov (U.S.), September 23, 2021.

[2] Aafia.org (U.S.), accessed October 19, 2021.

[3] NYTimes.com (U.S.), September 23, 2010.

[4] WashingtonPost.com (U.S.), September 3, 2008.

[5] NYTimes.com (U.S.), September 23, 2010.

[6] FBI.Gov (U.S.), September 23, 2021.

[7] Twitter.com/MajidNA1188, October 16, 2021.

[10] Twitter.com/FowziaSiddiqui, October 16, 2021.

[11] The News (Pakistan), October 9, 2021.

[13] Roznama Ummat (Pakistan), September 27, 2010.

[14] Al-Sahab (Pakistan), September 24, 2010.

[15] The Express Tribune (Pakistan), October 5, 2010.

[16] Twitter.com/MajidNA1188, October 15, 2021.

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