Officials investigate link between synagogue attacker and 2010 terror case

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KARACHI, Pakistan — The tabloids called her Lady Qaeda. A neuroscientist trained at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she was accused of attempting to kill American soldiers and plotting to blow up the Statue of Liberty. Since then, Aafia Siddiqui has spent nearly 12 years in federal prison in Texas.

Now investigators are investigating whether his story may have motivated the British attacker who stormed a Texas synagogue on Saturday and took four people hostage. Since Ms Siddiqui’s 2010 conviction for ‘terrorist events’ in Afghanistan, her name has become a rallying cry among Islamists in her native Pakistan, and her defiance of her arrest has made her a hero for jihadist militants. around the world, experts said.

“Her rejection of ordinary life makes her a spurring example for jihadist groups who exploit her victimization,” said Abdul Basit, a researcher at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

The FBI said on Sunday that the attacker, Malik Faisal Akram, spoke about Ms Siddiqui’s case, which has served as a pretext for previous terror attacks and has also sparked renewed interest since the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan last month. last summer. In October, hundreds of people marched to the US consulate in the port city of Karachi to demand that the Biden administration order his release.

Ms Siddiqui, 49, is serving an 86-year sentence at Federal Medical Center, Carswell, in Fort Worth, about 24 miles southwest of Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, where the 11 a.m. standoff ended. ended Saturday with the hostage – the death of the taker.

Ms. Siddiqui, who attended MIT and earned a Ph.D. from Brandeis University, was taken into police custody in Ghazni, Afghanistan in 2008 after local authorities suspected she was loitering outside the provincial governor’s compound.

US prosecutors said at the time of her arrest she was carrying handwritten notes plotting a ‘massive attack’, with a list of potential targets including the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street and the bridge from Brooklyn. Other notes in his possession referred to the construction of “dirty bombs”, prosecutors said.

On July 18, 2008, while in police custody in Afghanistan, Ms. Siddiqui grabbed an M4 rifle from the floor of a police station and fired at army officers and FBI agents, prosecutors said. She was shot in the abdomen.

During her 2010 trial in federal court in New York, Ms Siddiqui denied firing the gun or knowing how to make a dirty bomb. The trial was frequently interrupted by his anti-Semitic outbursts, including his demand that jurors undergo genetic testing to determine who among them was Jewish.

The legal proceedings became fodder for New York tabloids, which dubbed her “Lady Qaeda”. But in Pakistan, the media portrayed her as a victim of injustices inflicted on Muslims by the United States after the September 11 attacks and called her trial a “farce”.

In 2010 Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, who had described Ms Siddiqui as a “daughter of the nation”, joined Pakistan’s opposition leader Nawaz Sharif in promising to push for her release. The nation’s senators passed a resolution demanding his return.

Ms Siddiqui’s incarceration, combined with unsubstantiated reports that she was sexually assaulted in prison, has become a rallying cry for jihadists around the world who have committed violence in her name.

Islamist militants from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Algeria and Syria have made Ms Siddiqui’s release a condition of their release of foreign hostages.

In 2014, the Islamic State offered to exchange American journalist James Foley for Ms Siddiqui. Mr Foley was killed after the group’s demands, which also included an end to US airstrikes in Iraq, were not met.

Similarly, Qaeda-linked militants, who took dozens of people hostage at a gas plant in Algeria in January 2013, offered to exchange American captives for two prisoners, including Ms Siddiqui.

In March 2013, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan group carried out a suicide bombing attack on the court complex in Peshawar, Pakistan. The terror group said the attack on the justice system was due to “its failure to protect innocent citizens like Ms Siddiqui”.

In November 2018, Pakistan’s Senate unanimously passed a resolution proclaiming her “Daughter of the Nation” whose case needed to be urgently addressed with the US government.

One of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s election promises in 2018 was to bring her home.

Qari Sadiq Farooqi, a Karachi madrasa student who took part in the October protests, reacted defiantly to the Texas hostage situation on Sunday.

“Ms. Siddiqui is innocent and a victim of the United States’ war on terrorism,” he said. “How can a woman snatch a gun from American soldiers and attack them?

But Ms Siddiqui’s sister, Fowzia Siddiqui, said the family wanted “no violence on behalf of Ms Aafia Siddiqui”.

“A growing and tragic result of Ms Siddiqui’s continued detention is that our calls to avoid violence are being ignored as people lose faith in the effectiveness of these means. So we see extremists exploiting that and expressing their anger in deplorable ways,” she said.

Livia Albeck-Ripka contributed report.

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