Aafia Siddiqui was born in Pakistan on 2 March 1972 – she was raised and educated up until her A-Levels in the country. After completing her initial education she moved to the US in order to study at the University of Houston. Due to the success of her studies, she was able to procure a transfer to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to study a BSc in Biology. At MIT she stayed at the female dormitory, McCormick Hall.
During her time at MIT she was an active member of the Muslim Student Association (MSA) where much of her activity focussed on explaining Islam to non-Muslims for them to better understand the religion. Much of Aafia’s focus was on Islam and during her sophomore year she won a grant of $5000 to study the effects of Islam on women living in Pakistan.
After her graduation, Aafia married Mohammed Amjad Khan who was a medical student and the son of a wealthy family – their marriage was arranged by their respective families. Both shared a mutual desire to make their life in the US and also to live their life dedicated to Islam.
Aafia then proceeded to enrol at Brandeis University in order to read for her PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience. The degree related to studying the human beings and whether or not they learn by imitation. Her supervising professor, Paul DiZio, said of her research,
“I can’t see how it can be applied to anything…it’s not very applied work. It didn’t have a medical aspect to it. And, as a computer expert, she was competent. But you know, calling her a mastermind or something does not seem – I never saw any evidence.”
On 7 April 2004, MSNBC’s Newsweek identified Aafia Siddiqui as a microbiologist and, according to her lawyer, Elaine Whitfield Sharp, references were being made to her being involved in biochemical warfare.
After the completion of her biology degree at MIT, Aafia went on to do a doctorate in cognitive neuroscience at Brandeis University while her husband finished his medical studies. Media reporting painted Aafia as a microbiologist, geneticist or neurologist, fields which were very far from what she was actually doing.
In reality, Aafia’s PhD was based on the concept of human beings learning by imitation. When questioning Professor DiZio, one of her supervisors, regarding her research and how it could be used by Al Qaeda, he clearly stated that it was highly unlikely that she would have the technical knowledge to be involved with such things. Her PhD focused on the use of computers to understand human behaviour and had nothing to do with biochemical weapons.
After gaining her PhD qualification, the couple moved to Roxbury with their then two children. From their apartment the couple ran a non-profit organisation called the Institute of Islamic Research and Teaching which was co-jointly run by Aafia’s sister Fowzia. The organisation was started in 1999 and became an important focus in their lives.
According to Newsweek, Aafia was found to have funded Benevolence International and the Al Kifah Refugee Center – both of which have been banned by the UN.
Although the allegations against her seem plausible, the environment under which she raised the money should be understood. During the conflict in Bosnia, the aid efforts for the Bosnian people were strongly encouraged and even the ability of Westerners to flight in the conflict. Countries such as the US and UK did not hinder those who wished to assist the beleaguered people in the Balkans. Aafia’s involvement was only a small part of the wider efforts taking place. Email sent from her account, which have now been made public, showed very clearly that her efforts particularly concentrated on the plight of orphans in Bosnia and that her attempts to aid such victims were quite sincere. There is no record of any of her emails being in relation to raising funds for violence but rather focused on the humanitarian disaster in the country.
According to various new outlets and a UN investigation, in the middle of June 2001, Siddiqui landed in Liberia having flown from Quetta, Pakistan. An hour long drive to the airport in the intense heat did not seem to faze her despite wearing her headscarf. The driver of the car, who was to later become the chief informant in the UN-led investigation, described a woman in a headscarf who kept to herself. She went straight to her designated point, the Hotel Boulevard in the capital Monrovia, where men were waiting to tend to her needs. They knew that a high profile Al Qaeda operative was arriving, and Siddiqui was that person. These claims were to be raised after a ‘Seeking Information’ poster was issued relating to Siddiqui which was recognised by the taxi driver in Monrovia.
Within days of the 9/11 attacks, the FBI launched the PENTTBOM investigation – thousands of foreign Muslims were detained and placed through vigorous checks and, in many cases, detained for long periods without charge. The wide net of suspicion was cast and it soon became difficult for many Muslims to live in the US due to harassment they faced by the FBI and other authorities. As a result, Siddiqui and her husband returned to Pakistan.
In 2002 Aafia and her husband returned to the US where they separated and were eventually divorced on 21 October 2002. An argument between Aafia and her husband at her parent’s home resulted in a heart attack and the eventual death of her father. Within a few weeks of this incident she gave birth to her youngest child.
On 25 December 2002 Aafia Siddiqui returned to the US in order to look for work in the Baltimore area where her sister Fowzia now lived – she had job offers lined up at John Hopkins and SUNY. She remained in the US until 2 January 2003 – having used the time in order to search for work.
Disappearance between March 2003 – July 2008
During much of this period of disappearance, there was very little in the way of evidence as to where Aafia Siddiqui and her children were, or indeed where they were being kept.According to Pakistani officials who commented on the case of Siddiqui’s disappearance for the government, they had no knowledge of her whereabouts and were officially still looking for her. A senior Pakistani security official explained to the Association Press that they were attempting to locate her but that she had gone underground.
On 8 August 2008, the Daily Times newspaper in Pakistan made reference to documents that existed which confirmed that they Military Intelligence of Pakistan had detained Aafia Siddiqui and her three children on 30 March 2003 and, that they had been handed over to the FBI.
In March 2010 – a senior security official from Pakistan confirmed to Cageprisoners that an internal investigation into the Pakistani government had revealed that Pakistan was involved with her detention in 2003.
During the period of her disappearance, the FBI released a seeking information poster relating to her questioning in 2004. She appeared on the poster with six men.
Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller III on 26 May 2004 made a public appeal to the American people in helping the law enforcement agencies to find six men and one women with ties to terrorism. The one women that was shown in the pictures was Aafia Siddiqui. Ashcroft specifically commented that, “credible intelligence from multiple sources indicate that al Qaeda plans to attempt an attack on the United States in the next few months.” He further added that the seven, including Siddiqui, “…should all be considered armed and dangerous.”
In an article written by Robert Fisk for the Independent on 19/03/2010, Aafia Siddiqui’s uncle, Dr Shams Hassan Faruqi allegedly made the claim that he saw Aafia free in 2008 before the incident in Ghazni and further in an article in the New York Times that he had submitted an affidavit to the Pakistani authorities about her to that effect.
Dr Faruqi has now released an officially signed declaration to negate such speculation within the media:
“With reference to the news item published in the Urdu daily ‘Jang’ Rawalpindi of 8 March 2010 on some news published in New York Times, regarding my submission of an affidavit to Pakistani authorities about my niece Dr Aafia Siddiqui. I hereby declare that I have not given any statement to anybody including the concerned or unconcerned government authorities about Dr Aafia. The news published in the New York Times to this effect is totally false and baseless.
I further declare that Dr has never requested me to get established contact with the Pakistani or Afghani Taliban.”
Detention in Bagram
Questions asked by journalist Yvonne Ridley and Cageprisoners to the US administration have resulted in a complete denial that Aafia Siddiqui was ever in US custody. With efforts from UK House of Lords peer, Nazir Ahmed, the US administration decided to disclose for the first time that a female detainee had been kept at Bagram but that it was not Siddiqui and refused to disclose the nationality of the individual. The US authorities continue to allege that Siddiqui was never detained at Bagram except for a brief period after 18 July 2008 to treat her for a gunshot wound.
Cageprisoners first considered that Aafia Siddiqui may be detained in Bagram in 2006, when the video testimonies from the Bagram escapees emerged, affirming the presence of a female prisoner of Pakistani origin, with the prisoner ID ‘650’. After his release from Guantanamo Bay, Moazzam Begg related that he had heard the screams of a woman in Bagram, which continued to haunt him and the other prisoners. He managed to obtain confirmation by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), that indeed a woman had been detained at Bagram. Any likelihood that Aafia Siddiqui was the woman Begg heard screaming however was eliminated due to the fact that her kidnapping in Pakistan occurred after his transfer from Bagram to Guantanamo.
Despite official insistence by the US that Aafia Siddiqui was not detained at Bagram, the most recent evidence – other than the statement of Siddiqui herself in 2008 – came in 2009 with the release of former Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed. In an interview with Cageprisoners he states that he saw a female detainee who was Pakistani in origin, around the age of Siddiqui and also had been educated in the US. The last piece of information was given to him by the US guards. On being shown the picture of Aafia Siddiqui, Mohamed declared that the woman he saw in Bagram was one and the same. Once again her location was placed in Bagram and her time detained there consistent with the detention of Binyam Mohamed.
For five years there was no truce of Aafia Siddiqui and her three children. In the most bizarre set of events, the family went from fading into obscurity to becoming international news. Siddiqui’s re-emergence came at a time when her case was being raised publicly and pressure was being applied on the Pakistani government from all quarters.
On 7 July 2008, Cageprisoners patron Yvonne Ridley and Director Saghir Hussain held a press conference in Pakistan regarding Aafia‘s case which resulted in mass international coverage and a renewed interest from Pakistani media and political figures. At this time, the former President of Pakistan, Pervaiz Musharraf, was still in power and was coming under much criticms for his role in the disappearance of Pakistani nationals and the removal of the judiciary. Within three weeks of the international press storm whipped up by the press conference, an FBI agent visited the Texan home of Siddiqui’s brother and informed him that she was arrested and being detained in Afghanistan.
According to the US version of her re-emergence, Aafia Siddiqui was arrested by the Afghan National Police (ANP) in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan on 17 July 2008; she remained at the police station, under arrest, from 17 July to 18 July 2008.
While still at the Ghazni police station on 18 July 2008, Aafia was shot in the abdomen by a warrant officer of the US military. Aafia was transferred from Ghazni by emergency medical flight to a medical facility at the United States Bagram Air Force Base (AFB). While at the facility there, Aafia wunderwent emergency abdominal surgery for the gunshot wounds. Following this, Aafia was under guard by FBI agents in her hospital room, and was also in four-point restraints.
On 19 July 2008, before Aafia’s detention had been revealed to the public, an article in the Associated Press by Amir Shah explained a different narrative to that of the Americans. The article correctly identified a Pakistani woman and her twelve year old son being taken into Afghan custody but then provides two narratives of the shooting incident, indicating that the Afghans had changed their story quite quickly.
“Saturday, July 19, 2008
Female bomb suspect shot by U.S.
Amir Shah, ASSOCIATED PRESS
KABUL, Afghanistan | U.S. soldiers shot and wounded a suspected female bomber as they took over custody of her from Afghan police, a police official said Friday.
Gen. Khan Mohammad Mujahid, police chief in central Ghazni province, said the woman and a 12-year-old boy were taken into Afghan custody Thursday evening in Ghazni city. The woman, believed to be Pakistani, was later taken by the American soldiers, he said.
Gen. Mujahid initially said the police argued with the Americans over giving up custody. But he later said there was no argument and that the woman lunged at one of the U.S. soldiers, provoking the gunshot.
U.S. military officials said they did not immediately have a comment.
The two suspects were carrying explosives and a map marking the governor’s residence and that of other provincial leaders, according to Sayid Ismail Jahangir, spokesman for the provincial governor.
Mr. Jahangir said the woman was 25, spoke Arabic, English and Urdu, and was from the Multan area in Pakistan. He said she had admitted to investigators that the two had planned to kill the governor or other officials.
In two brief interviews, Gen. Mujahid confirmed some of the details, and said the police had taken the two suspects to the anti-terrorism department when American soldiers arrived on the scene and demanded they get custody.
Gen. Mujahid first said the police insisted they be allowed to carry out their normal procedures and inform higher officials in the Afghan government. The argument escalated, and the U.S. soldiers opened fire, Gen. Mujahid said.
But in a second call, Gen. Mujahid said there had been no argument and that the woman had prompted the shooting by going for an American soldier’s gun.
The woman was wounded, and the soldiers took her to a nearby military base, Gen. Mujahid said.”
On 31 July 2008, FBI Special Agent David A Baker, arrived at the home of Aafia’s brother, Muhammad Siddiqui, and informed him that his sister, Aafia Siddiqui was: (1) injured, but alive; and (2) in custody in Afghanistan.
On 1 August 2008, a lawyer for Aafia’s family spoke directly with Agent Baker and verified the content of the information that he had divulged to Muhammad Siddiqui.
US transfer of jurisdiction
According to the US indictment, Aafia Siddiqui was extradited to the US from Afghanistan for allegedly, “unlawfully, willingly, and knowingly…[prepared to]use a deadly and dangerous weapon and…forcibly assault, resist, oppose, impede, intimidate, and interfere.” Also she is alleged to have attempted to kill officers and employees of the United States.
The above two counts of criminality serve to act as one of the most confounding conundrums of the eight years of the War on Terror. Siddiqui was allegedly found in Afghanistan, attempting to attack an Afghani compound (at least according to the Afghanis) – thus, she should be tried for committing a war crime in the arena of conflict, or she should be tried for attempting to commit an act of terrorism, or even for having a child soldier with her. The internationally serious crimes of terrorism and war crimes were completely ignored by the US in their indictment of Siddiqui. They have indicted her for two far lesser offences and, in a jurisdiction which is outside of the country where the incident took place.
Further, this is one of the first times that a non-US citizen has not been designated an ‘enemy combatant’ and detained at one of the many bases around the world. Why was Aafia Siddiqui sent to the US mainland when no foreign detainee before her was treated in such a way? Why was Siddiqui not sent to Guantanamo Bay?
Considering the list of allegations that have been levied against Siddiqui over the last five years, there was not a single reference to her involvement in international terrorism during her indictment. Questions must be raised as to why such seemingly important points have been completely ignored for the sake of indicting on lesser offences? It is indeed these last points that are so troublesome for those who have studied this case in detail. They do not correspond at all with the history of the case.
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)