Special Report | Who is Dr Aafia Siddiqui? And why are Algerian hostage-takers demanding her release?

A key demand of the Algerian hostage takers is the release of a Pakistani mother-of-three currently serving an 86-year sentence in a US prison. So why has her case gone virtually unmentioned in the mainstream media? Journalist Yvonne Ridley, herself a former hostage, reports.

New in Ceasefire, Special Reports - Posted on Saturday, January 19, 2013 14:14 - 37 Comments

Share

By

Dr Aafia Siddiqui

The only thing that surprised me when I heard that the Algerian kidnappers had called for the release of Dr Aafia Siddiqui was that it hadn’t happened sooner. Don’t get me wrong, as a former hostage myself, there is no way I condone the actions of what has unfolded in a remote corner of the Algerian desert. And my heart goes out to the families of those who have lost loved ones in the unfolding drama at the In Amenas gas plant siege said to have been masterminded by Mohktar Belmokhtar. The infamous one-eyed Algerian militant apparently with ties to al Qaida, has claimed responsibility for launching Wednesday’s attack. It also goes without saying there is no way the kidnappers, whether politically or criminally motivated, can be justified in their actions.

But an injustice is an injustice and as the only western journalist to have specifically gone to Afghanistan to investigate the case of Dr Aafia Siddiqui, I have to say her plight has become a cause célèbre around the Muslim world. And I have an uncomfortable feeling that more and more westerners will be kidnapped as their captors demand the release of Dr Aafia Siddiqui, a woman I once called the most wronged in the world.

So just who is Dr Aafia Siddiqui and why is a group of North Africans calling for her release?

Well it’s very easy to get emotional about a wronged Muslim woman caught up in the War on Terror but I am not basing my case on emotion just some simple cold, hard facts and forensic evidence … or lack of it, but more of that and her bizarre story later.

Her family will certainly not be pleased that a group of Algerian terrorists have called for her release because it will give a perception in some quarters that Dr Aafia must be an Islamic extremist. It’s a narrative pushed by US intelligence although it has to be said in her trial the opening statement of the prosecutor stated quite clearly that she was not al-Qaida nor a terrorist sympathiser.

The case of the mother-of-three is well known in every household in Pakistan from the most religious to the most secular … the majority of which have been demanding her repatriation for years. Now she is known as the Daughter of the Nation although her story has travelled well beyond Pakistan’s borders. Thousands of Muslim children have been named after her because of all that she has come to symbolise. Everything that she represents stems from the injustices created by America’s War on Terror … the kidnaps, renditions, torture, rape and waterboarding.

The brilliant academic, a neuroscientist, educated in top US universities, is tonight languishing in a Texan jail serving an 86 year sentence after being found guilty of trying to kill American soldiers. The fact they shot her at close range and nearly killed her is often overlooked. To their eternal shame, the US soldiers serving in Afghanistan claimed in court under oath that the diminutive, fragile academic leapt at them from behind a prison cell curtain, snatching one of their guns to shoot and kill them. It was a fabricated story that any defence lawyer worth his or her salt would have ripped apart at the seams.

The scenario painted in court was incredulous and more importantly, the evidence non existent – no gunshot residue on her hands or clothes, no bullets from the discharged gun, no fingerprints belonging to Dr Aafia on the gun … other vital evidence removed by US military from the scene went missing before the trial. Come on, we’ve all seen episodes of CSI – the science doesn’t lie. After being patched up in a medical wing in Bagram, she was then ‘renditioned’ to America to stand trial for an alleged crime committed in Afghanistan. Flouting the Vienna and Geneva Conventions, she wasn’t given consular access until the day she made her first court appearance.

The trial was held in New York, a stone’s throw from where the Twin Towers once stood making it impossible not to invoke the memories of that horrific day on September 11 which for some forever turned Muslims into Public Enemy Number One. A lacklustre legal team forced upon Dr Aafia by the US authorities failed to sway the jury of her innocence, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence that she could not have snatched a soldier’s gun let alone pull the trigger.

I went into the cell in Ghazni a few weeks after the shooting in July 2008 and discovered that the soldiers had panicked and sprayed the room with bullets as they struggled to flee. The evidence is there on film shot during my visit and handed over to the defence team. The prosecutors could not believe a western journalist had travelled to this part of Afghanistan and obtained compelling witness and visual evidence. Soon after that vital forensic evidence including spent bullets that had been gouged out of a wall in the cell, went missing.

Seeing Dr Aafia emerge unshackled and unhooded from behind a curtain caused blind panic among the young soldiers who had been briefed by the FBI they were going to arrest one of the most dangerous women in the world. I interviewed eyewitnesses, senior Afghan police officers and one after another told me their account of what happened. Yet the only Afghan brought to court to give testimony against her was the FBI’s translator who now has a green card and lives in New York with his family.

What the jury was not told is that Dr Aafia, and her three children, all aged under five at the time, had been kidnapped from a street near their home in Karachi and disappeared from 2003. The FBI put out a story at the time that she had in fact gone on a jihad to Afghanistan – it was a ludicrous tale without foundation and, as every mother of young children knows, a journey to the local corner shop with toddlers is a monumental challenge so heading off to fight in Afghanistan with a pram, pushchair and toddler in hand is simply inconceivable. The FBI narrative was destroyed by Boston-based Elaine Whitfield Sharp, a lawyer hired by the Siddiqui family when Dr Aafia first disappeared.

The missing years of the academic’s life reveal a story which is now known to virtually everyone in the Muslim world where she is widely regarded as a victim of George W Bush’s War on Terror. As she tried to tell the jury how she was held in secret prisons, with no legal representation, cut off from the outside world since 2003 where brutal interrogation techniques were used to break her down, she was silenced by the judge who said he was only interested in the cell shooting incident.

Judge Richard Berman, a modest little man with much to be modest about, insisted he was not interested in the missing years; it had no relevance to the case, he insisted. She testified that after completing her doctorate studies she taught in a school, and that her interest was in cultivating the capabilities of dyslexic and other special needs children. She emerged as a humanity-loving nurturer and educator, the gentle yet resolute seeker for truth and justice.

As the evidence continued we learned that she didn’t know where her three children were – it was sensational content for those who knew the real story. She talked of her dread and fear of being handed back to the Americans when she was arrested in Ghazni and was held by police.

Terrified that yet another secret prison was waiting for her she revealed how she peeked through the curtain divider into the part of the room where Afghans and Americans were talking, and how when a startled American soldier noticed her, he jumped up and yelled that the prisoner was loose, and shot her in the stomach. She described how she was also shot in the side by a second person. She also described how after falling back onto the bed in the room, she was violently thrown to the floor and lost consciousness.

This ties in exactly with what I was told by the counter terrorism police chief I interviewed in Afghanistan back in the autumn of 2008 – I remember him laughing as he told me how the US soldiers panicked, shot randomly in the air as they stampeded out of the room in a blind panic.

Of course there’s no way a bunch of soldiers are going to admit they lost it, but according to those I interviewed for my film In search of Prisoner 650 in Afghanistan that’s exactly what happened. Two of her missing children have since been found and reunited with their extended family in Karachi. It is still not clear where the children were held when they were snatched from a street in Karachi but there’s no disguising their American accents … possibly picked up from their jailers.

So why did the FBI want to speak to Dr Aafia in the first place and why did they portray her as a dangerous terrorist on the run? If she was the person they painted why wasn’t she charged with terrorism offences and why was the prosecutor at pains to point out that she was not al Qaida?

One person who might hold the key is Dr Aafia’s ex-husband who has resisted attempts to be interviewed by me. He was going through a very combative and bitter divorce in the months before she disappeared. He first came to the attention of the FBI in 2002 when he was living in America but what he told them that would lead them to suspect his ex-wife of wrongdoing is anyone’s guess.

Who snatched Dr Aafia and her children? I don’t know, but I have also tracked down several ex-Bagram detainees who told me they saw Dr Aafia being held in Bagram in 2005 and gave a positive identity of her by photographs before her kidnap and after her arrest in Ghazni. The bottom line is Dr Aafia Siddiqui should not be in prison and as long as this injustice continues she will become a rallying call for anyone who wants to pick a fight with America.

Acknowledging the injustice and returning Dr Aafia to her home in Pakistan will not stop extremists from causing terror, but it might make the lives of US citizens a lot safer if this wrong is put to right.

For info and updates on Dr Aafia Siddiqui’s case please visit www.cageprisoners.com

Yvonne Ridley

Yvonne Ridley is a British journalist and a patron of the London-based human rights NGO cageprisonners.com as well as being the European president of the International Muslim Women's Union and the Vice President of the European Muslim League. Her website is www.yvonneridley.org and she's on Twitter @yvonneridley.

Share

37 Comments

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

maaz
Jan 19, 2013 15:32

than you madam,than kyou very much of raising voice against the brutal torture on a woman.

Hade Sheriff
Jan 19, 2013 16:14

Very good exposure , Americans should be ashamed .

noob
Jan 19, 2013 16:51

may Lord bless you sister.

naqibullah
Jan 19, 2013 17:38

Asalamu alikum manetabal hada i read her story that how she was innocent i am really sorry for her and her family bt i wonder to these people who shout we brought demorcosy and human rights now we see their rights in action how they make in fact they tell lie it is wrong ,it is not ever animal’s rights that they give to humans

Amel Alghrani
Jan 19, 2013 17:47

Thank you for this informative article . You have acted as an investigator, legal researcher and outstanding journalist in drafting this short but informative and eloquent paper. Perhaps you could send this to the mainstream broadsheets as this is something the public should know in order to be presented with why another side to the hostage story.

Islam
Jan 23, 2013 8:21

Thank u Yvonne Ridley.. May u be blessed
Realese dr afia

Yasmin Selena Butt
Jan 23, 2013 12:12

This is the first I’ve heard of her case but that was a really upsetting read. I’m wondering if she qualified as a Prisoner of Conscience with Amnesty International as that trial sounded far from fair. Thanks for writing about her.

Nadeem Siddiqui
Jan 23, 2013 13:02

It is very factual and logical wite-up on Dr Aafia Siddiqui. that is one of numberless brutal, heart touching stories of American atrocities on the world. I salute to the writer for writing truth in this shabby age of lies and hypocrisy.

Aimee
Jan 23, 2013 13:24

I can’t believe this is the first I have heard of this woman. Shocking. Thank you for bringing this to my attention, I can only hope more people hear about what has happened to her.

Mohayyuddin
Jan 23, 2013 15:01

With power one may convert truth to lie & lie to truth. The day is not to far when Allah is going to question. Draft answer now lest u fail & hell fire is waiting fo u

Andrea
Jan 23, 2013 19:34

This story makes me sick. As an American I am deeply ashamed and grief stricken that so many atrocities continue to take place in the name of ‘freedom.’ Thank you for writing this article.

Peace
Jan 24, 2013 3:32

:)

Peace
Jan 24, 2013 3:34

650, 650, these are the numbers of a cherished soul.

Robs
Jan 24, 2013 3:43

Rendered- not ‘renditioned’.

fozia
Jan 24, 2013 10:41

aasalamalikum i wanna knw more abt dr aafia

Maghlaoui farhat
Jan 24, 2013 12:36

En tant qu’ancien prisonnier politique qui a goûté à l’amère injustice dans les camps de concentration du Sahara et les autres geôles du pouvoir sanguinaire Algérien, votre article sur le Dr Aafia Seddiqui m’a profondément bouleversé au point d’en pleurer. Nul ne peut mesurer le souffrance due à l’injustice autant que quelqu’un qui l’a lui même subie. C’est à travers les terribles évènements de Ain Amenas que j’ai pour la première fois entendu parler de cette femme. Et, c’est votre article sur les investigations que vous avez entreprises à ce sujet qui m’on fait connaitre le basculement tragique de la vie de cette femme. Madame Yvonne Ridley, je vous salue ici pour votre droiture devant l’injustice, et votre combat contre le mensonge et l’hypocrisie.Que Dieu vous aide.

Ralph Coffman
Jan 24, 2013 16:40

The cheney/bush Gang and the obomba/jarrett/clinton Gang are all Traitors and act as Foreign Agents of the “City of London” International Bankster Crime Syndicate. This 1 sq mile within London is actually a self-governing city-state. It is actually an on-shore off-shore financial banking haven. The laws of england do not apply in this 1 sq. mile. The corporations located there have voting rights[75%]. This is where the Fraudulent Derivative Ponzi scheme has run up a $1,800 TRILLION Dollar Debt. This is the debt that they have run up Fraudulently and are forcing us to pay. The problem with that equation is that the Yearly Gross World Product is $70 TRILLION Dollars. The Bankster’s Fraudulent Debt can never be paid. They have created $$$ out of thin air. The whole world is waking up to this and that is why the Bankster Crime Cartel is desperatly trying to start wars everywhere. Criminal Terrorists are hired to Murder,Pillage,Rape, Plunder,Steal and Destroy everywhere they are sent. NATO is a Drug,Weapon,Money Delivery System Controlled by the Banksters. All done in the Financial Interests of the “Empire”, the “Crown”, the “Illuminati”, the “New World Order”, etc. These “Elite”, have as their END GAME/FINAL SOLUTION the GENOCIDE murder of 6+ Billion People. They want to have a “manageable”, less than 1 Billion World Population. All of our countries have been occupied by members of this Evil Dark Force. These Psychopaths, Haters of Humanity, need to be removed from their seats of Power & Influence. Do not be fooled by them. THEY want to destroy ALL religons, or better yet have us destroy each other while they sit back and make MONEY [+interest] off all “their” schemes that cause all of “our” suffering. Brothers and Sisters DON’T be fooled this way. The World Belongs to Everyone. These War Mongers, haters of Humanity, serve their made up god, satan. They think themselves equal to or better than god. What a perrverted joke these elitists are. All’s I know is their path is Death. Death for Everyone…The path of God, Allah, God of Abraham, or whatever your heart says is filled with LIFE… This choice belongs to each and every heart beating on our planet. Speaking for myself, I fear no man because Our God’s time is here & now. It is Our Destiny to Change the World and Develope the World into God’s Paradise on Earth. If not now, When??? If not you, then Who??? What do we need to do Brothers and Sisters? We need to Unite!!! We are all related. We are all their victims. We need to stand up together instead of bending over and taking their manipulation and abuse. Allah calls upon you to do the right thing and stand up for all of our fellow brothers and sisters who are being abused,tortured,and murdered every day. The Foreign Criminal Terrorists invading Syria that are murdering & massacring men,woman, and children by the hundreds are not Followers of Islam. Allah is ashamed of them that sell their souls for shiny Trinkets or promises of power. People like Dr. Siddiqui are more often victims of injustice. I have been aware of her case for quite some time and I feel there has been a grave injustice done to her and her family,[and so,so many others]. I will do what I can to correct all these injustices and I hold all these victims in my heart. Allah Akbar

Building the future state, today! | Blink
Jan 25, 2013 2:17

[…] highly recommend this article on Dr Siddiqqui. No one can get this story straight. She went missing in 2003 from Karachi, […]

Bob McWilliams
Jan 25, 2013 4:50

I am a Canadian living in Hiroshima, Japan. And I have lived long enough (92 years) to believe that every word of this article is probably true. At any rate, it is time that the USA grew up and began to stop being a state which thinks that it is entitled to make decisions for those in other countries and is the successor to the “Divine right of Kings”. This comment is my prayer for justice.

Building the future state, today! « Farther Shores
Jan 25, 2013 18:54

[…] highly recommend this article on Dr Siddiqqui. No one can get this story straight. She went missing in 2003 from Karachi, […]

Mohamad Sophiaan Assoari
Jan 26, 2013 21:08

May Allah swt bring us together, stand united as true Muslims in the face of adversities.

Wanie
Feb 8, 2013 16:09

is she been released???? i never heard about her case.. this is the 1st time.. btw, thanks for the information… wonder how is she now… :(

Andy Worthington and Omar Deghayes Discuss Aafia Siddiqui in East London, Saturday February 23, 2013 | Andy Worthington
Feb 21, 2013 21:53

[…] to shoot some US soldiers in Afghanistan, but as Yvonne Ridley explained in a recent article for Ceasefire magazine, “The fact they shot her at close range and nearly killed her is often overlooked. […]

Andy Worthington and Omar Deghayes Discuss Aafia Siddiqui in East London, Saturday February 23, 2013 – AlHittin.com
Feb 22, 2013 7:06

[…] to shoot some US soldiers in Afghanistan, but as Yvonne Ridley explained in a recent article for Ceasefire magazine, “The fact they shot her at close range and nearly killed her is often overlooked. To […]

Ali Noman
Feb 26, 2013 6:53

Qarz ha hum sub Muslims per Inshallah hum chkai gai.

Jagidaar
Mar 17, 2013 4:16

america exposed…the US soldiers are cowards doesnt hav any guts….
bullshit shame …doznt even hold the right to b called as soldiers..
its an insult to soldier word & tru soldiers…

V heard or read many stories where these US soldiers were afraid of innocent MANS(males) now even they r afraid of innocent civilian WOMENS..
btw hats off to u MADAM journalist foo visiting the incident place & reporting & bringing truth..
THank QQQ

ertyymdc
Mar 20, 2013 13:34

shame of u america
kidnap,torture and raping her..
so how do you feel if your women was in her place ..rapist?
what will u say?
what will u do?
if other guy torture your mom,sister or wife
and raping them

May god bless her..
may god bless her
may god bless her
may god bless her

Rohani Ibrahim
Mar 25, 2013 4:08

may god bless you sister. Shame the americans!

Zulaikha
Mar 25, 2013 5:38

May Allah bless us. And help us to win over the kafirun. Thanks a lot madam for your writing.

Shaun
Apr 23, 2013 23:38

Why no mention of the fact that Dr. Siddiqui had to be removed from court several times for yelling anti-Jewish obscenities, that she demanded that her lawyers be fired because of their Jewish background, and that she further demanded that the jurors be tested for Jewish heritage and thrown off the jury if they have Jewish background? Don’t you think that is salient information, Ms. Ridley?

Fiona
Apr 24, 2013 2:14

This article is not objective and leaves out important information. At the time of her arrest she carried cyanide and bomb recipes. Innocent?

Nicholas
Apr 28, 2013 12:18

There are real killers who get 25-30 years of sentence and then get out of prison, while Aafia Siddiqui got 86 years of sentence just for TRYING to kill?! This is not fair! This is American hatred pointed at muslims!

Zouzou Smith
May 1, 2013 5:31

I would have preferred the article to not have omitted facts or alleged facts that other media has published, for example, that her second husband, Ammar al-Baluchi, is the nephew of an 9-11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed.

Or the $10,000 in Internet purchases of night vision goggles and body armor back in 2002, and as Fiona mentions above, that she had material to make explosives when she was caught. No one out there is sure if any or some of these allegations are even true, but if someone intends to write an article to steer public opinion in her favor, it certainly doesn’t help to ignore them.

somalimidnimo.com » Dr Aafia Siddiqui. Prisoner # 650
May 8, 2013 11:17

[…] is an article of a British journalist, Muslim Yvonne Ridley. The journalist says she does not know why the […]

Zia ur Rahman
May 11, 2013 17:35

my sisterrr! afia!!!!!dark of dusk will turns ilto dawn very soon…you are successful…believe me you have been successful in both lives….you shall become cause of end of terrorism….you have provided a new way to your nation…at least i promise u to never forget you & try to make our country so strong that no bad eye will raise to it’s daughters…….
thank you…….Yvonne Riddley

Maab
Jun 15, 2013 4:42

Asallamualaykum Warahmatulla. Dr. Aafia may Ahllah bless you, my dear sister. May he protect you from harm. I am so so so sorry you went through some thing as horrible as that. Once again may Allah bless and protect you for what you did for all of us.

lucky
Jul 19, 2013 16:57

you can argue the way she was captured ,but matter of fact is that she was involved in 9/11 attacks ,she was very close to 9/11 master mind khalid mohammd & later married to his nephew Ammar Baluchi who is also involved in 9/11 currently held in Guntanamo bay prison .

Leave a Reply

Comment

 

More in Media

More Ideas

More In Politics

More In Features

More In Profiles

More In Arts & Culture