Siddiqui Supporter Holds Synagogue Hostage

On January 15, 2022, a congregation of Jewish worshipers at the Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, had their services interrupted by a gunman. During the ensuing crisis, the gunman held four worshipers hostage for hours while demanding that a woman named Aafia Siddiqui — who he at times referred to as his sister — be released.

Who is Aafia Siddiqui? 

Aafia Siddiqui is a Pakistani woman who received a Ph.D. in neuroscience in the United States in 2001 before returning to Pakistan following the attacks of 9/11. She is currently imprisoned in what her supporters believe to be a series of miscarriages of justice related to the War on Terror. When Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — the leading architect of 9/11 — named Siddiqui as part of the al-Qaeda terror network in 2003, she was placed on the FBI’s list for Seeking Information — Terror. About that time, she and her three young children, ages 6, 4, and 6 months, disappeared in Karachi, Pakistan. In 2004, the FBI named Siddiqui as one of its seven most-wanted terrorists. By that time, she very likely had married the nephew of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, an incident that her family denies. Nevertheless, that has been held up in court as having occurred. 

An FBI wanted poster featuring a composite picture of Aafia Siddiqui. Photo Source: Credit: Public Domain Wikipedia

Five years after disappearing in 2004, Siddiqui reappeared, now in Ghazni, Afghanistan, where Afghan police arrested her and transferred her to the FBI. The Afghan police who found her claimed that she had in her purse a thumb drive and handwritten notes containing instructions for creating weapons of mass destruction. They also discovered radioactive (“dirty”) bombs, descriptions of New York City landmarks and plans for a mass-casualty event, machines to shoot down drones, and two pounds of jarred sodium cyanide. At her trial, her lawyers claimed that the evidence in her handbag could not be admitted because it was handled sloppily.

While under interrogation by the FBI, she said that she had gone into hiding with her children over the past five years but changed the story to say that she had been kidnapped and imprisoned. Evidence suggests that she may have been held at the Bagram Detention Center in Afghanistan as a ghost prisoner, meaning that she was never properly registered as an inmate. Holding people as ghost prisoners was a common tactic used during the War on Terror; whether or not Siddiqui was held as a ghost prisoner is not confirmed.

While Siddiqui was under interrogation by the FBI, she allegedly grabbed a gun that one of the officers had placed on the floor and shot at FBI and military personnel. Siddiqui and her supporters dispute that this altercation took place; her lawyers claimed that there was no forensic evidence that she fired the gun at her trial. She was shot by the interrogating personnel and extradited to the United States, where she received emergency medical care for a life-threatening gunshot wound.

In February 2010, she was convicted of attempting to murder U.S. personnel serving in Afghanistan and received a sentence of 86 years. Amnesty International monitored the trial to ensure that the proceedings were fair, given that much of the information about her associations with al-Qaeda is unconfirmed.

Metropolitan Detention Center
The Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York, where Siddiqui was imprisoned before transferring in 2010. Photo Source: Jim.henderson Credit: Public Domain Wikipedia

Her two oldest children have returned home to their family in Pakistan, and the youngest child, who was six months old at the time of Siddiqui’s five-year disappearance, has been presumed deceased.

According to a website set up by Siddiqui’s supporters, 

During the trial “in a U.S. District Court in New York City in 2010, the most compelling evidence was in Dr. Siddiqui’s favor and, the government’s star witnesses contradicted themselves and each other, so much (under oath) that they should have been charged with perjury. Regrettably, the unrelenting pre-trial propaganda against “Lady al-Qaeda,” as some of the media dubbed her, coupled with a federal judge (Richard Berman) who was openly biased against her from start to finish, made a “fair trial” virtually impossible.

The five missing years (2003-2008) were ordered off-limits during the trial; the forensic and circumstantial evidence was ignored; Dr. Aafia Siddiqui was found guilty and given a sentence of 86 YEARS. She is currently imprisoned at FMC Carswell – an institution located on a military base in Fort Worth, Texas – completely cut off from the outside world. It should also be noted that Judge Berman has officially closed her case to the appeals process.

Dr. Aafia Siddiqui does not enjoy the same visitation rights as other prisoners; even mail sent to her gets returned. There are credible reports that her health (both physical and mental) is not good. Her family and supporters have asked the government to allow an independent medical team into FMC Carswell to examine her (so far without success).”

A gunman holding someone hostage. Photo Source: kittirat roekburi Credit: Shutterstock

Siddiqui’s supporters, including the gunman at the synagogue in North Texas, see her as a political prisoner who has been wrongfully detained and denied any semblance of justice. To them, she is a brilliant neuroscientist who had much to offer the world yet was deprived of her most basic rights. Her imprisonment is a flashpoint for many concerned about injustices and abuses that occurred as part of the War on Terror. 

Others see her as a terrorist who undoubtedly had connections to al-Qaeda and is rightfully imprisoned for the attempted murder of U.S. personnel. 

The Aftermath 

Following the synagogue attack in which a gunman demanded Siddiqui’s release, lawyers insisted that the case must be resolved through legal means and not through taking innocent civilians as hostages. Siddiqui and her family have said that they have no relation to the gunman. The gunman was killed when law enforcement intervened to rescue the hostages.

“Amnesty International Public Statement.” A.I. index: AMR 51/004/2010. January 19, 2010.
“Aafia Siddiqui.” Wikipedia.
“Dr. Aafia Siddiqui.” The Aafia Foundation.
“What We Know About the Texas Synagogue Standoff,” by Chas Danner. New York Magazine. January 16, 2022. 
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