Introduction

Dr. Aafia Siddiqui was born on March 2, 1972 in Karachi. She attended school in Zambia until the age of eight, and finished her primary and secondary schooling in Karachi. She then moved to Houston, Texas, on a student visa in

Dr. Aafia Siddiqui


Professional Achievements


Dr. Aafia Siddiqui was born on March 2, 1972 in Karachi. She attended school in Zambia until the age of eight, and finished her primary and secondary schooling in Karachi. She then moved to Houston, Texas, on a student visa in 1990 joining her brother. She attended the University of Houston for three semesters and then transferred to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) after being awarded a full scholarship.

 

In 1992, as a sophomore, Aafia received a Carroll L. Wilson Award for her research proposal "Islamization in Pakistan and its Effects on Women". As a junior, she received a $1,200 City Days fellowship through MIT's program to help clean up Cambridge elementary school playgrounds. While she initially had a triple major in biology, anthropology, and archaeology at MIT, she graduated in 1995 with a BS in biology.

 

She was regarded as religious by her fellow MIT students, but not unusually so as a student who lived in the dorm at the time said, She was just nice and soft-spoken, [and not] terribly assertive. She joined the Muslim Students' Association (MSA) and a fellow Pakistani recalls her recruiting for association meetings and distributing pamphlets. Aafia solicited money for the Al Kifah Refugee Center which has been tied to al-Qaeda. Through the MSA she met several committed Islamists, including Suheil Laher, its imam, who publicly advocated Islamization and jihad before 9/11.

 

When Pakistan asked the United States for help in 1995 in combating religious extremism, Aafia circulated the announcement with a scornful note deriding Pakistan for "officially" joining "the typical gang of our contemporary Muslim governments", closing her email with a quote from the Holy Quran warning Muslims not to take Jews and Christians as friends. She wrote three guides for teaching Islam, expressing the hope in one: that our humble effort continues and more and more people come to the [religion] of Allah until America becomes a Muslim land." She also took a 12-hour pistol training course at the Braintree Rifle and Pistol Club in Braintree, Massachusetts.

 

In 1995, she had an arranged marriage to anaesthesiologist Amjad Mohammed Khan from Karachi, just out of medical school, whom she had never seen. The marriage ceremony was conducted over the telephone. Khan then came to the United States and the couple lived first in Lexington, Massachusetts, and then in the Mission Hill neighbourhood of Roxbury, Boston, where he worked as an anaesthesiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital. She gave birth to a son, Muhammad Ahmed in 1996, and to a daughter, Mariam Bint-e Muhammad, in 1998.

 

Aafia studied cognitive neuroscience at Brandeis University. In early 1999 while she was a graduate student, she taught General Biology Lab, a course required for undergraduate biology majors, pre-med, and pre-dental students. She received her PhD in 2001 after completing her dissertation on learning through imitation, separating the Components of Imitation. Aafia's dissertation adviser was a Brandeis psychology professor who recalled that she wore a head scarf and thanked Allah when an experiment was successful. He said her research concerned how people learn, and did not believe it could be connected to anything that would be useful to Al-Qaeda. Aafia also co-authored a journal article on selective learning that was published in 2003.

 

In 1999, while living in Boston, Aafia founded the Institute of Islamic Research and Teaching as a non-profit organization. She served as the organization's president, her husband was the treasurer, and her sister was the resident agent. She attended a mosque outside the city where she stored copies of the Quran and other Islamic literature for distribution. She also helped establish the Dawa Resource Centre, a program that distributed Qurans and offered Islam-based advice to prison inmates.

 

In the summer of 2001, the couple moved to Malden, Massachusetts. According to Khan, after the September 11 attacks, Aafia Siddiqui insisted on leaving the United States, saying that it was unsafe for them and their children to remain. He also said that she wanted him to move to Afghanistan, and work as a medic for the mujahideen.

 

In May 2002, the FBI questioned Aafia Siddiqui and her husband regarding their purchase over the internet of $10,000 worth of night vision equipment, body armour, and military manuals including The Anarchist's Arsenal, Fugitive, Advanced Fugitive, and How to Make C-4. Khan claimed that these were for hunting and camping expeditions. On June 26, 2002, the couple and their children returned to Karachi.

 

In August 2002, Khan alleged Aafia Siddiqui was abusive and manipulative throughout their seven years of marriage; her violent personality and extremist views led him to suspect her of involvement in jihadi activities. Khan went to Aafia’s parents' home, and announced his intention to divorce her and argued with her father. In September 2002, Aafia gave birth to the last of their three children, Suleman. The couple's divorce was finalized on October 21, 2002.

 

Aafia left for the United States on December 25, 2002, informing her ex-husband that she was looking for a job. She returned back to Pakistan on January 2, 2003. Amjad later said he was suspicious of her explanation, as universities were on winter break. The FBI linked her trip to supporting al-Qaeda, claiming that the purpose of the trip was to open a post office box for Majid Khan, whom they believed to be an al-Qaeda operative, who was listed as a co-owner of the box. The FBI believes the purpose of this was to make it appear that Khan, whom Aafia had listed as a co-owner of the box, was still in the United States. The P.O. Box key was later found in the possession of Uzair Paracha, who was convicted of providing material support to al-Qaeda.

 

In February 2003, she married accused al-Qaeda member Ammar al-Baluchi a nephew of al-Qaeda leader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Karachi. Aafia's family denies that she married al-Baluchi, but Pakistani and United States intelligence sources, a defence psychologist during her 2009 trial and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's family all say the marriage was real. She had worked with al-Baluchi in opening a P.O. Box for Majid Khan, and says she married him in March or April 2003.

 

According to a dossier prepared by UN investigators for the 9/11 Commission in 2004, Aafia, using the alias Fahrem or Feriel Shahin, was one of six alleged al-Qaeda members who bought $19 million worth of blood diamonds in Monrovia, Liberia, immediately prior to the September 11, 2001, attacks. The diamonds were purchased because they were untraceable assets to be used for funding al-Qaeda operations. The identification of Aafia was made three years after the incident by one of the go-betweens in the Liberian deal.

 

Alan White, former chief investigator of the U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal in Liberia, said she was the woman. Aafia's lawyer maintained credit card receipts and other records showed that she was in Boston at the time. FBI agent Dennis Lormel, who investigated terrorism financing, said the agency ruled out a specific claim that she had evaluated diamond operations in Liberia, though she remained suspected of money laundering.

 

In early 2003, while Aafia was working at Aga Khan University in Karachi, she emailed a former professor at Brandeis and expressed interest in working in the United States, citing lack of options in Karachi, for women of her academic background.

 

According to the media, Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, alleged al-Qaeda chief planner of the September 11 attacks, was interrogated by the CIA after his arrest on March 1, 2003. Mohammed was tortured by water-boarding 183 times, and his resultant confessions triggered a series of related arrests shortly thereafter. The press reported Mohammed naming Aafia as an al-Qaeda operative On March 25, 2003, the FBI issued a global "wanted for questioning" alert for Aafia and her ex-husband, Amjad Khan. Aafia was accused of being a "courier of blood diamonds and a financial fixer for al-Qaida". Khan was questioned by the FBI, and released.

 

Aafia was afraid that the FBI would find her in Karachi, a few days later she left her parents' house along with her three children on March 30. She took a taxi to the airport, ostensibly to catch a morning flight to Islamabad to visit her uncle, but disappeared.

 

Aafia and her children's whereabouts and activities from March 2003 to July 2008 are a matter of dispute. On April 1, 2003, local newspapers reported, and Pakistan interior ministry confirmed, that a woman had been taken into custody on terrorism charges. The Boston Globe described "sketchy" Pakistani news reports saying Pakistani authorities had detained Aafia, and had questioned her with FBI agents. However, a couple of days later, both the Pakistan Government and the FBI publicly denied having anything to do with her disappearance.

 

On April 22, 2003, two United States federal law enforcement officials anonymously said Aafia had been taken into custody by Pakistani authorities. Pakistani officials never confirmed the arrest, however, and later that day the United States officials amended their earlier statements, saying new information made it "doubtful" she was in custody. Her sister Fauzia claimed Interior Minister Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat said that her sister had been released and would be returning home "shortly".

 

In 2003–04, the FBI and the Pakistani government said they did not know where Aafia was. United States Attorney General John Ashcroft called her the most wanted woman in the world an al-Qaeda "facilitator" who posed a "clear and present danger to the United States" On May 26, 2004 the United States listed her among the seven "most wanted" al-Qaeda fugitives. One day before the announcement, The New York Times cited the Department of Homeland Security saying there were no current risks; American Democrats accused the Bush administration of attempting to divert attention from plummeting poll numbers and to push the failings of the Invasion of Iraq off the front pages.

 

According to her ex-husband, after the global alert for her was issued Aafia went into hiding, and worked for al-Qaeda. During her disappearance Khan said he saw her at Islamabad airport in April 2003, as she disembarked from a flight with their son, and said he helped Inter-Services Intelligence identify her. He said he again saw her two years later, in a Karachi traffic jam.

 

Media reports Aafia having told the FBI that she worked at the Karachi Institute of Technology in 2005, was in Afghanistan in the winter of 2007. She stayed for a time during her disappearance in Quetta, Pakistan, and was sheltered by various people.

 

According to an intelligence official in the Afghan Ministry of the Interior, her son Ahmad, who was with her when she was arrested, said he and Aafia had worked in an office in Pakistan, collecting money for poor people. He told Afghan investigators that on August 14, 2008, they had travelled by road from Quetta, Pakistan, to Afghanistan. Amjad Khan, who unsuccessfully sought custody of his eldest son, Ahmad, said most of the claims of the family in the Pakistani media relating to her and their children were to garner public support and sympathy for her. He said they were one-sided and mostly false. An Afghan intelligence official said he believes that Aafia was working with Jaish-e-Mohammed (the "Army of Muhammad"), a Pakistani Islamic mujahedeen military group that fights in Kashmir and Afghanistan.

 

Aafia's maternal uncle, Shams ul-Hassan Faruqi, said that on January 22, 2008, she visited him in Islamabad. He said that she told him she had been held by Pakistani agencies, and asked for his help in order to cross into Afghanistan, where she thought she would be safe in the hands of the Taliban. He had worked in Afghanistan, and made contact with the Taliban in 1999, but told her he was no longer in touch with them. He notified his sister, Siddiqui's mother, who came the next day to see her daughter. He said that Aafia stayed with them for two days. Her uncle has signed an affidavit swearing to these facts.

 

Ahmad and Aafia reappeared in 2008. Afghan authorities handed the boy over to Pakistan in September 2008, and he now lives with his aunt in Karachi, who has prohibited him from talking to the press. In April 2010, Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik said that a 12-year-old girl who was found outside a house in Karachi was identified by a DNA test as Siddiqui's daughter Mariyam, and that she had been returned to her family.

 

Aafia's sister and mother denied that she had any connections to al-Qaeda, and that the United States detained her secretly in Afghanistan after she disappeared in Pakistan in March 2003 with her three children. They point to comments by former Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, detainees who say they believe a woman held at the prison while they were there was Aafia. Her sister said that Siddiqui had been raped, and tortured for five years.

 

According to journalist and former Taliban captive Yvonne Ridley, Aafia spent those years in solitary confinement at Bagram as Prisoner 650. Six human rights groups, including Amnesty International, listed her as possibly being a "ghost prisoner" held by the United States. Aafia claimed that she had been kidnapped by United States intelligence and Pakistani intelligence.

 

Aafia has not explained clearly what happened to her other two children. She alternated between saying that the two youngest children were dead, and that they were with her sister Fowzia, according to a psychiatric exam. She told one FBI agent that sometimes one has to take up a cause that is more important than one's children. Khan said he believed that the missing children were in Karachi, either with or in contact with Siddiqui's family, and not in United States detention. He said that they were seen in her sister's house in Karachi and in Islamabad on several occasions since their alleged disappearance in 2003.

 

In April 2010, Mariam was found outside the family house wearing a collar with the address of the family home. She was said to be speaking English. A Pakistani ministry official said the girl was believed to have been held captive in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2010. The United States government said it did not hold Aafia during that time period, and had no knowledge of her whereabouts from March 2003 until July 2008. The United States ambassador to Islamabad, Anne Patterson, categorically stated that Siddiqui had not been in United States custody "at any time" prior to July 2008.

 

A United States Justice Department spokesman called the allegations "absolutely baseless and false", a CIA spokesman also denied that she had been detained by the United States, and Gregory Sullivan, a State Department spokesman, said, for several years we have had no information regarding her whereabouts whatsoever. It is our belief that she has all this time been concealed from the public view by her own choosing.

 

Assistant United States Attorney David Raskin said in 2008 that United States agencies had searched for evidence to support allegations that Aafia was detained in 2003, and held for years, but found "zero evidence" that she was abducted, kidnapped or tortured. He added: "A more plausible inference is that she went into hiding because people around her started to get arrested, and at least two of those people ended up at Guantanamo Bay.

 

According to some United States officials, she went underground after the FBI alert for her was issued, and was at large working on behalf of al-Qaeda. The Guardian cited an anonymous senior Pakistani official suggesting an "invaluable asset" like Aafia may have been "flipped" – turned against militant sympathisers – by Pakistani or American intelligence.

 

In August 2010 Yvonne Ridley reported that she had acquired a three-paragraph statement taken from Ahmed by a United States officer before he was released from United States custody.

 

Ahmed described Aafia driving a vehicle taking the family from Karachi to Islamabad, when it was overtaken by several vehicles, and he and his mother were taken into custody. He described the bloody body of his baby brother being left on the side of the road. He said that he had been too afraid to ask his interrogators who they were, but that they included both Pakistanis and Americans. He described beatings when he was in United States custody. Eventually, he said, he was sent to a conventional children's prison in Pakistan.

 

His statement does not describe how he and his mother came to be in Ghazni in 2008. Aafia was approached by Ghazni Province police officers outside the Ghazni governor's compound on the evening of July 17, 2008 in the city of Ghazni. With two small bags at her side, crouching on the ground, she aroused the suspicion of a man who feared she might be concealing a bomb under the burqa that she was wearing.

 

A shopkeeper noticed a woman in a burqa drawing a map, which is suspicious in Afghanistan where women are generally illiterate. She was accompanied by a teenage boy about 12, whom she reportedly claimed was an orphan she had adopted. She said her name was Saliha, that she was from Multan in Pakistan, and that the boy's name was Ali Hassan. Discovering that she did not speak either of Afghanistan's main languages, Pashtu or Dari, the officers regarded her as suspicious.

 

Aafia was charged on July 31, 2008, in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, with assault with a deadly weapon, and with attempting to kill United States personnel. She was flown to New York on August 6, and indicted on September 3, 2008, on two counts of attempted murder of United States nationals, officers, and employees, assault with a deadly weapon, carrying and using a firearm, and three counts of assault on United States officers and employees.

 

According to FBI reports prepared shortly after July 18, 2008, Aafia repeatedly denied shooting anyone. Her trial was subject to delays, the longest being six months in order to perform psychiatric evaluations. She had been given routine mental health check-ups ten times in August and six times in September.

 

She underwent three sets of psychological assessments before trial. In April 2009, Manhattan federal judge Richard Berman held that she "may have some mental health issues" but was competent to stand trial.

 

Prior to her trial, Aafia said she was innocent of all charges. She maintained she could prove she was innocent, but refused to do so in court. On January 11, 2010, Aafia told the Judge that she would not cooperate with her attorneys, and wanted to fire them. She also said she did not trust the Judge, and added, “I’m boycotting the trial, just to let all of you know. There are too many injustices." She then put her head down on the defence table as the prosecution proceeded.

 

After 18 months of detention, Aafia's trial began in New York City on January 19, 2010. Prior to the jury entering the courtroom, Aafia Siddiqui told onlookers that she would not work with her lawyers because the trial was a sham. She also said I have information about attacks, more than 9/11. I want to help the President to end this group, to finish them. They are a domestic, United States group and they are not Muslim.

 

During the trial, Aafia was removed from the court several times for repeatedly interrupting the proceedings with shouting; on being ejected, she was told by the judge that she could watch the proceedings on closed-circuit television in an adjacent holding cell. A request by the defence lawyers to declare a mistrial was turned down by the judge.

 

During the trial, she was questioned about allegedly taking a firearms course while a student in Boston. Initially she answered that she had no memory of it but and when pressed further, denied it. When the prosecutor continued to press the issue implying sinister motivations, Aafia replied "You can't build a case on hate; you should build it on fact!

 

Aafia Siddiqui was sentenced to 86 years in prison by the federal judge Berman in Manhattan on September 23, 2010, following a one-hour hearing in which she testified.

 

Amnesty International monitored the trial for fairness. Four British Parliamentarians called the trial a grave miscarriage of justice which violated the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution as well as the United States' obligations as a member of the United Nations, and demanded Aafia Siddiqui's release. In a letter to Barack Obama, they stated that there was a lack of scientific and forensic evidence tying Aafia to the weapon she allegedly fired.

 

Many of Aafia Siddiqui's supporters, including some international human rights organizations, have claimed that Siddiqui was not an extremist and that she and her young children were illegally detained, interrogated and tortured by Pakistani intelligence, United States authorities or both during her five-year disappearance. The United States and Pakistan governments have denied all such claims.

 

In August 2009, Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani met with Aafia Siddiqui's sister at his residence, and assured her that Pakistan would seek Aafia's release from the United States. The Pakistani government paid $2 million for the services of three lawyers to defend Siddiqui during her trial. Many Aafia Siddiqui supporters were present during the proceedings, and outside the court dozens of people rallied to demand her release.