Where was Siddiqui between 2003 and 2008? Was she in Pakistani or American custody? If so, is the story of her arrest in 2008 real?
The Pakistani government is not forthcoming about her whereabouts prior to 2008. After four years of unanswered questions and a sentence that seems out of proportion to the charges that have been framed, the Aafia case will continue to be a lightning rod for anti-American sentiment in Pakistan.
It has now been years since agents of the US government shot Aafia Siddiqui and since she was abducted from Pakistan through a rendition operation locked up in Afghanistan, and forcibly removed from Afghanistan after an implausible shoot out, and illegally transferred her to the US.
According to WikiLeaks relating to Guantanamo released in April 2011, Aafia Siddiqui plotted to smuggle explosives into America and offered to manufacture biological weapons.
The allegations are a combination of US intelligence analysis and direct testimony by at least three senior Al Qaeda figures, including the 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Muhammad. They cannot be independently corroborated and the testimonies were likely to have been extracted under conditions of torture.
Muhammad, known as KSM in intelligence circles, was waterboarded 183 times in the month after his capture in Pakistan in March 2003.
But several of the accounts do overlap, linking Siddiqui, a 39-year-old mother of three, with some of Osama bin Laden’s top lieutenants. They help explain why the FBI placed her on a list of the world’s seven most wanted Al Qaeda fugitives in 2004.
The Guantanamo files offer a murky perspective, placing Siddiqui at the heart of an Al Qaeda cell based in Karachi between 2002 and 2003. Led by KSM, the cell conspired to mount fresh attacks in the US, on London Heathrow airport and inside Pakistan.
According to the files, the cell planned to smuggle explosives into America under the cover of textile exports and attack “economic targets”, according to KSM.
The operation would take place through an import export business run by Saifullah Paracha, a Pakistani businessman who worked as a New York travel agent for 13 years before developing ties to Osama bin Laden. Paracha, 64, is currently in Guantanamo Bay.
According to Paracha’s file, Siddiqui’s role was to “rent houses and provide administrative support for the operation”. As part of this brief she travelled from Pakistan to the US in January 2003 to help renew the American travel papers of Majid Khan, a co-conspirator.
According to Khan, he provided Siddiqui with money, photos and a completed application for an “asylum travel form” that “looked and functioned like a passport”.
Then, according to Khan’s file, “Siddiqui returned to the US and opened a post office box in detainee’s name, using her driver’s licence information”.
The plot collapsed after Khan was picked up in Pakistan and sent to Guantanamo. A co-conspirator in America, Uzair Paracha, son of Saifullah Paracha, was arrested in possession of the post box key. Uzair was sentenced to 30 years’ jail in 2006; details of Siddiqui’s role surfaced during his trial. Her family say she was framed.
The Guantanamo files give fresh details on Siddiqui’s relationship with Ammar Baluchi, the nephew of KSM and a senior Al Qaeda figure facing a raft of serious allegations. Siddiqui reportedly married Baluchi during a secret ceremony near Karachi in February 2003. Siddiqui’s family denies the marriage took place.
Baluchi said he told Siddiqui, who has a biology degree from MIT, that Al Qaeda had set up a laboratory to make biological weapons. Siddiqui replied that she “was willing to participate in a biological weapons project if Al Qaeda tasked her to”.
Al Qaeda has a biological weapons program based in Afghanistan stretching back to the late 1990s. When Siddiqui was arrested in Ghazni in 2008, her handbag allegedly contained several bottles of deadly chemicals, extracts from an “arsonist’s handbook”, and details of several prominent American landmarks.
Despite the serious nature of the allegations against Siddiqui contained in the Guantanamo files, the US has never attempted to prosecute her for them.
On February 14, 2011, 2011, International Justice Network, representing the Afia Siddiqui in the United States, released a report stating that it has spent the past 14 months researching the circumstances surrounding the unusual arrest and custody of the Pakistani mother of three.
Supported with previously unreleased evidence, IJN has uncovered direct involvement by Pakistan agencies in the disappearance of Dr. Aafia and her three young children in March 2003 — five years before the US government claims she was first arrested in Afghanistan in July 2008.
The facts reveal shocking new evidence that contradicts official statements from governments of both Pakistan and the United States that Dr. Siddiqui was not detained in their custody prior to her arrest in 2008.
IJN has obtained a secret audio recording of a senior Pakistani police official who admits he was personally involved in the arrest of Dr. Siddiqui and her children five years ago. This account is corroborated by substantial documentary evidence and witness testimony, which all points to the same conclusion-that Dr. Siddiqui and her three children were initially arrested in March 2003 with the knowledge and cooperation of local authorities in Karachi, and subsequently interrogated by Pakistani military intelligence (ISI) as well as U.S. intelligence agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
In a letter to Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, IJN Executive Director, Tina M. Foster, urged the government of Pakistan to take immediate action to demand Dr. Siddiqui’s repatriation, while the U.S. government is seeking the return of the Lahore shooter. In it, Ms. Foster stated:
“The safety and security of all Pakistani citizens is compromised when U.S. government agents can kill civilians on Pakistani soil with impunity, while the daughter of the nation (who has never caused harm or injury to anyone) languishes in a Texas prison for a crime she didn’t commit. Justice demands that Raymond Davis not be repatriated to the United States without securing the return of Dr. Siddiqui to Pakistan. The path is now clear. The only question that remains is whether the government of Pakistan is willing to take it.”
According to her family’s version, on March 30, 2003, Dr. Aafia Siddiqui had disappeared from Karachi along with her three minor children, after leaving her mother’s house in Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Karachi, in a Metro-cab to catch a flight for Rawalpindi; she never reached the airport.
Dr Afia had been picked-up by Pakistani intelligence agencies while on her way to the airport and initial reports suggested that she was handed over to the FBI. At the time of her arrest she was 30 years and the mother of three sons the oldest of which was four and the youngest only one month.A few days later an American news channel, NBC, reported that Afia had been arrested in Pakistan on suspicion of facilitating money transfers for terror networks of Osama Bin Laden. The mother of the victim, Mrs. Ismat termed the NBC report absurd. She went on to say that Dr Afia is a neurological scientist and has been living with her husband, Amjad, in the USA for several years. She was a highly educated woman who made it to the upper strata of middle class in two societies – Pakistan and US.
When a Newsline correspondent walked into Dr Siddiqui’s large Karachi residence in Gulshan-e-Iqbal soon after her arrest, he was greeted by an old veiled woman. She was Ismat Siddiqui, mother of Dr Afia Siddiqui.
I don’t want to talk with anyone or to give any statement,” said Ismat Siddiqui. However, she went on to speak for about two hours during which time, she generally remained calm, apart from a few emotional outbursts.
My daughter is a highly educated woman, held in high esteem by her professors in the United States. I don’t know where she is and I am extremely concerned about her and her three children,” she said.
On April 1, 2003, a small news item was published in an Urdu daily with reference to a press conference of the then Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat. When questioned with regard to Dr Afia’s arrest he denied that she had been arrested. This was followed by another Urdu daily article on April 2 regarding another press conference in which the same minister said Dr Afia was connected to Al Qaeda and that she had not been arrested as she was absconding. He added: “You will be astonished to know about the activities of Dr Afia”. A Monthly English magazine of Karachi, Newsline, in a special coverage on Dr Afia reported that one week after her disappearance, a plain clothed intelligence went to her mother’s house and warned her, “We know that you are connected to higher-ups but do not make an issue out of your daughter’s disappearance.” According to the report the mother was threatened her with ‘dire consequences’ if she made a fuss.
Dr Siddiqui, who studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US, for about 10 years and did her PhD in genetics, returned to Pakistan in 2002. Having failed to get a suitable job, she again visited the US on a valid visa in February 2003 to search for a job and to submit an application to the US immigration authorities. She moved there freely and came back to Karachi by the end of February 2003 after renting a post office box in her name in Maryland for the receipt of her mail. It has been claimed by the FBI (Newsweek International, June 23, 2003, issue) that the box was hired for one Mr Majid Khan, an alleged member of Al Qaeda residing in Baltimore.
Throughout March 2003 flashes of the particulars of Dr Afia were telecast with her photo on American TV channels and radios painting her as a dangerous Al Qaeda person needed by the FBI for interrogation. On learning of the FBI campaign against her she went underground in Karachi and remained so till her kidnapping. The June 23, 2003, issue of Newsweek International was exclusively devoted to Al Qaeda. The core of the issue was an article “Al Qaeda’s Network in America”. The article has three photographs of so-called Al Qaeda members – Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, Dr. Afia Siddiqui and Ali S. Al Marri of Qatar who has studied in the US like Dr Siddiqui and had long since returned to his homeland. In this article, which has been authored by eight journalists who had access to FBI records, the only charge leveled against Dr. Afia is that “she rented a post-office box to help a former resident of Baltimore named Majid Khan (alleged Al Qaeda suspect) to help establish his US identity.
Later, both the Pakistan government as well as US officials in Washington denied any knowledge of Afia’s custody, making her disappearance even more mysterious. In yet another twist, her husband Amjad Khan, whom Afia divorced three months before her disappearance, is also apparently under suspicion. According to Ismat Siddiqui, Amjad had wanted his eldest son to go to a madrassa, while Afia wanted her children to get an “English education.” Mrs. Siddiqui hinted that her former son-in-law was wanted by the FBI, but was not sure in what connection. Amjad Khan has no political background nor is he affiliated with any group, but his staunch Islamic beliefs may have motivated him to back or support Islamic extremist groups. According to Mrs. Siddiqui, he used to call his wife and mother-in-law “American agents.”
Surprisingly there has been no official report registered with the police about Afia’s disappearance which explains why Afia’s mother wanted to avoid going public. The police, meanwhile, is doing nothing to trace Afia. “We have no knowledge about this case nor has anyone contacted me,” said Sindh police chief, Syed Kamal Shah. Ismat Siddiqui, however, claims that she has spoken to high police officials, including Shah, about her daughter’s disappearance.
Whilst Dr. Afia’s whereabouts remained unknown, there appeared reports of a woman called ‘Prisoner 650’ being detained in Afghanistan’s Bagram prison and that she was being tortured to the point where she has lost her mind. Britain’s Lord Nazeer Ahmed, (of the House of Lords), asked questions in the House about the condition of Prisoner 650 who, according to him is physically tortured and continuously raped by the officers at prison. Lord Nazeer has also submitted that Prisoner 650 had no separate toilet facilities and had to attend to her bathing and movements in full view of the other prisoners.
On July 6, 2008 a British journalist, Yvonne Ridley, called for help for a Pakistani woman she believed was being held in isolation by the Americans in their Bagram detention center in Afghanistan, for over four years. “I call her the ‘grey lady’ because she is almost a ghost, a spectre whose cries and screams continues to haunt those who heard her,” Ms Ridley said at a press conference in Islamabad.
Ms Ridley, who went to Pakistan to appeal for help, said the case came to her attention when she read the book, The Enemy Combatant, by a former Guantanamo detainee, Moazzam Begg. After being seized in February 2002 in Islamabad, Mr Begg was held in detention centres in Kandahar and Bagram for about a year before he was transferred to Guantanamo Bay. He recounted his experiences in the book after his release in 2005. Mr Imran Khan, leader of Pakistan Tehrike Insaf expressed his suspicion that prisoner 650 could be Dr Afia Siddiqui and USA and Pakistani authorities are hiding facts of ‘Prisoner 650’. However, on October 29/ 2008, Ms Yvonne Ridley, a female journalist who turned Muslim after staying in captivity of Taliban, and whose Muslim name is now Marium, stated that Prisoner `650′ was not Dr Afia as first thought by some of the prisoners as the latest information revealed that the lady was still in prison even after Doctor’s transfer to the USA.
To date, neither the American nor the Pakistani government have come out about the arrest and detention of Dr. Afia in either Bagram or Guantanamo Bay where suspected terrorists are held.
Media reported that she had been taken by the US authorities with compliance of Pakistani authorities since the FBI had wanted to seek some information from her. In the face of general outcry, the US and Pakistani authorities quickly backtracked but then a year later Pakistani Foreign Office admitted publicly that Aafia had been handed over to the US.
On August 4, the US authorities officially admitted of having Aafia in their custody but the US Department of Justice brought forth a charge sheet against her, claiming that she was arrested on July 17 (and not before) while loitering around near the residence of Ghazni’s Governor. They alleged that papers found in her handbag included instructions on making bombs and notes about installations in US.
After being transferred to Afghanistan in Bagram, she was physically tortured. However, the Afghans did not humiliate her. Her three children, two sons and a daughter (Ahmad, Suleman and Maryam) were taken away. She was told that her children would be returned only if she confessed to meetings with certain people. She however did not disclose the names of the said people to the delegation. She agreed and feared that this forced confession could go against her in Pakistan. She also feared that her third child, a son by the name of Suleman, might have been killed. She alleged that at Bagram one of the interrogators was an Indian, who was her contemporary at MIT and was interested in her research work.
She was labeled an al-Qaida supporter and was brought to the United States after her July 2008 arrest in Afghanistan. She was convicted of grabbing a rifle and trying to shoot US authorities while yelling, ”Death to Americans!” Her February conviction touched off protests in Pakistan.
Aafia’s uncle, S. H. Faruqi, in an article published, claimed that he met Aafia in Islamabad in January 2008, and that Aafia’s face was altered by plastic surgery and that she had a national ID card under a fictitious name.
The Government of Pakistan is silent on the issue as to where was Dr Siddiqui lifted by US and even if she had been lifted from Afghanistan, under the international law, the country is bound to hand her over to the concerned country. It has nothing to say as to what was he doing for the past two and a half years since he became the Interior Minister, and as to why he has woken up now to order such an inquiry.
While talking to a delegation of moron Pakistani Senators who individually had close ties with the United States, Dr Afia Siddiqui asked the delegation if America had attacked Pakistan. Dr Afia said that all she remembered was that she was traveling in a taxi to her maternal uncle’s house and later found herself in Bagram, Afghanistan. The delegation asked why she had to leave her home to which she replied that at that time she did not enjoy good relations with her mother due to Afia’s divorce from her husband. She did not know where she was taken as she had problem recollecting and reconciling dates and places.
They explained her wounds by saying that a day after her arrest she took an M4 rife which belonged to US military personnel and fired two rounds at close range, which missed, and she had to be shot in the torso.
When produced before a New York court where she had to be assisted into the hearing her health was in a serious condition due to a bullet wound and removal of one kidney.
It is reported that she was brought to Pakistan in February 2008 to convince her to become a government witness against Khalid Shiek Mohammad – a high profile Al-Quaida leader and allegedly one of the masterminds of the September 11 attacks, who has been detained in Guantanamo Bay prison. The American forces need the assistance of Dr. Afia Siddiqui to convict Khalid Shiekh Mohammad.
Dr. Afia was allegedly severely tortured in Karachi in order to secure her compliance.