Rumors have recently been swirling on social media that Pakistani neuroscientist, Aafia Siddiqui, “Lady Al-Qaeda,” has died in a Texas prison. The neuroscientist is currently incarcerated at the Federal Medical Center, Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas. Pakistan has dismissed the Aafia Siddiqui death rumors as, “baseless.”
Ayesha Farouqi, Pakistan Consul General, has categorically denied that Siddiqui has passed away. Farouqi has met with Siddiqui four times over the past 14 months. She recently held a two hour meeting with the imprisoned neuroscientist in a Houston jail.
Who is Aafia Siddiqui?
Aafia Siddiqui is an Pakistani neuroscientist trained at MIT and Brandeis University. After Al-Qaeda member and “the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks,” Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, named Siddiqui as a financier and courier for Al-Qaeda, the neuroscientist became the only woman to be placed on the FBI Seeking Information – Terrorism list. Shortly thereafter, Siddiqui and her children went missing for five years in Pakistan. She later claimed she had gone into hiding before changing her story and saying she had been kidnapped.
Siddiqui eventually surfaced in Afghanistan and was arrested by Afghan police who believed she was a suicide bomber, before being handed over to the FBI. Materials needed for bomb making, notes on a “mass casualty attack” in the US, and other incriminating evidence was allegedly found among Siddiqui’s possessions.
The FBI claims Siddiqui tried to shoot an FBI agent. She was then extradited to the US and indicted on charges of assault and attempted murder of a US soldier. Siddiqui refused to cooperate with her legal team, despite the fact that they were chosen and paid for by the Pakistani government, on the basis that they were Jewish. She also demanded DNA tests for jurors to ensure there were no Jewish people on the jury. The Pakistani government paid $2 million for her legal defense.
Siddiqui repeatedly refused to cooperate throughout the trial claiming it was a sham. She told onlookers before the beginning of the trial, “I have information about attacks, more than 9/11! … I want to help the President to end this group, to finish them… They are a domestic, U.S. group; they are not Muslim.”
Siddiqui was convicted in 2010 and sentenced to 86 years. She was eventually transferred to a Texas prison for female inmates with special mental health and medical needs.
Aafia Siddiqui Death Rumors
Over the time she has been in custody, Aafia Siddiqui death rumors have spread across Pakistan on a number of occasions.
Her family publicly claimed that they have been unable to get in touch with her, helping to feed the Aafia Siddiqui death rumors. In 2015, two consular visits from the Pakistani embassy to the Texas prison where Siddiqui was being held raised suspicions. On both visits, the embassy officers reported meeting with a woman covered in a burka who sat with her back facing them and refused to speak a single word.
“I remember her telling us that she would never refuse any chance to talk to her family or anyone who could help her. She said we have no idea what goes on at that prison. The doctors are wolves disguised as sheep,” her sister said.
Siddiqui’s defense attorney, Stephen Downs, was also suspicious, saying, “We are being presented with a person who is represented to be her, but we don’t know if that really is the case. Maybe it is not her we are seeing.”
Downs has also said, “Aafia has now essentially been in solitary confinement for the last 12 years, and tortured for part of that time. And we know that this kind of confinement and torture can do a lot of things to the human mind.”
The US denied the allegations and claimed that Siddiqui is alive, without offering further elaboration.
Recently, rumors about Siddiqui’s death began to circulate again on social media. Farouqi, Pakistan’s General Consul, has dispelled the Aafia Siddiqui death rumors and confirmed that she has met with the imprisoned neuroscientist four times in the past 14 months.
Tensions with Pakistan
Siddiqui’s trial and imprisonment in a Texas prison has been a source of ongoing tension between the US and Pakistan.
After her sentencing, thousands protested in Pakistan. Her family often took part in the protests, claiming Siddiqui was kidnapped by American forces and held at the US Bagram Airbase where she was tortured while a case against her was fabricated. In Pakistani media, the trial was painted as a show trial and an act of anti-Muslim sentiment. The Nation, wrote that the verdict of the trial “did not really surprise anyone familiar with the vindictive mindset of the U.S. public post-9/11.” Rumors even circulated in the media that Siddiqui had been sexually abused by her American captors.
Then Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif promised to push for her release. Prime Minister Gilani even described her as “daughter of the nation,” leading to Siddiqui becoming a touchstone of Pakistani nationalism and anti-American sentiment at the time.
Despite the public support that elevated Siddiqui to the role of folk hero, not everyone in Pakistan believed that she was innocent. Her ex-husband implied that she was not innocent, saying Siddiqui was, “reaping the fruit of her own decision. Her family has been portraying Aafia as a victim. We would like the truth to come out.”
Although Siddiqui claims that she has had no affiliation with terrorist groups, a number of terrorist organizations have demanded her release.
The Taliban claimed the 2009 Camp Chapman attack was carried out partially in retribution of Siddiqui’s imprisonment. Hakimullah Mehsud, then head of the Taliban, released a video calling for revenge for Siddiqui’s arrest. The next day the 2010 Times Square car bombing attempt was carried out by a naturalized Pakistani-born US citizen. The Taliban even claimed that they had been contacted by Siddiqui’s family who were asking for Taliban assistance in having Siddiqui released from the Texas prison where she was being held.
Over the years, Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and the Islamic State have attempted to leverage American and European captives for Siddiqui’s release. In 2014, ISIS even offered $6.6 million in exchange for Siddiqui’s release.