Jan 17, 2022

How Aafia Siddiqui became an icon for terrorists, CNN.com

Peter Bergen is CNN's national security analyst, a vice president at New America and a professor of practice at Arizona State University. His new book is "The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden." The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN. (CNN)The hostage-taker at the synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, Saturday was believed by US law enforcement to be motivated by the imprisonment of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani who is serving an 86-year sentence at a prison in Fort Worth. She was arrested by US forces in Afghanistan almost a decade and half ago, yet her arrest continues to reverberate today. To most Americans Siddiqui is an obscure figure, but among Islamist terrorists the mother of three is an icon. After ISIS kidnapped American journalist James Foley in Syria in 2012 the terrorists sent an email to Foley's family in August 2014 demanding the release of Siddiqui. In 2009, US soldier Bowe Bergdahl was taken hostage by the Taliban in Afghanistan. One of the key Taliban demands for Bergdhal's release was Siddiqui being freed from US custody. Siddiqui, a slight Pakistani in her mid-thirties, was arrested in eastern Afghanistan in July 2008. US officials said she was carrying documents about the manufacture of "dirty bombs," which are radiological weapons. They said she was also carrying notes about attacks against New York City landmarks such as the Empire State Building and the Brooklyn Bridge. Siddiqui, who lived in the United States between 1991 and 2002, graduated from top US universities with a degree in biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a PhD in neuroscience from Brandeis. After Siddiqui was arrested in Ghazni, Afghanistan, she was interrogated on July 18, 2008 by US soldiers and FBI officials. During that interrogation Siddiqui found an unattended rifle and fired it at a US officer and other members of the interview team. She also attacked an FBI agent and a US army officer as they tried to disarm her. She was subsequently charged with attempted murder. In her native Pakistan, Siddiqui is lionized by some as a victim of the "war on terrorism." Thousands took to the streets in protest when she was convicted of the attempted murder of the US army officer in 2010. Now, once again, Siddiqui's imprisonment in Texas is being used as a rationale for terrorism against Americans, this time in the United States itself. American troops may have all departed Afghanistan in August, but America's long war there continues to reverberate today.