Aafia Siddiqui


Aafia Siddiqui
BACKGROUND

 

Dr. Aafia Siddiqui was born on 2 March 1972 in Karachi, Pakistan. She is one of three siblings. Aafia’s father Mohammad Siddiqui was a UK-trained doctor and her mother, Ismet, is a homemaker. Aafia has three children: Ahmed (b. 1996), Maryam (b. 1998), and Suleman (b. 2002), the latter of whom remains missing to this day.

 

Aafia moved to Texas in 1990 to be near her brother, and after spending a year at the University of Houston, transferred to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Siddiqui’s fellow students say she was a quiet, studious woman who was devout in her religious beliefs but far from the media characterisation of ‘Lady Qaeda’. A fellow student, Hamza, recalled in an interview with the BBC, “I remember Aafia as being sweet, mildly irritating but harmless”.

 

During her time at MIT, Aafia joined the campus Muslim Student Association (MSA) and was actively involved in efforts to portray the teachings of Islam to non-Muslims in order to better their understanding of her faith and invite them to Islam. Her emphasis in her life on bettering the conditions of Muslims even pervaded her academic achievements. During her sophomore year at MIT, she won a grant of $5,000 to study the effects of Islam on women living in Pakistan. In addition to her many academic achievements, Aafia earned the honourable status of committing the entire Qur’an to memory.

 

Following her graduation, Aafia married a medical student Mohammed Amjad Khan. She subsequently entered Brandeis University as a graduate student in cognitive neuroscience. Citing the difficulty of living as Muslims in the United States after 9/11 and following FBI harassment of her husband, Aafia and her husband returned to Pakistan. They stayed in Pakistan for a short time, and then returned to the United States. They remained there until 2002, and then moved back to Pakistan. Some problems developed in their marriage, and Aafia was eight months pregnant with their third child when she and Khan were separated. She and the children stayed at her mother’s house, while Khan lived elsewhere in Karachi. After giving birth to her son, Aafia stayed at her mother’s house for the rest of the year, returning to the US without her children around December 2002 to look for a job in the Baltimore area, where her sister had begun working at Sinai Hospital. On 1 March 2003, Pakistani authorities arrested Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Aafia and her children disappeared just 27 days later.

 

 

DISAPPEARANCE

 

According to Aafia’s mother, Aafia left their home in Gulshan-e-Iqbal in a Metro-cab on 28 March, 2003 to catch a flight to Rawalpindi, but never reached the airport. In February 2010 Aafia’s eldest son returned to the scene and described how, when he, his mother and siblings came out of their home, fifteen to twenty people, including a ‘white lady’ and members of the ISI, were waiting in three to four vehicles on the next street and subsequently kidnapped them. Aafia was placed into one black car and the crying children into another. She described to her lawyer that she was immediately hooded and drugged. When she awoke she was tied to a gurney in a place that could not have been Karachi because the air was very dry.

 

Following her trial, Aafia’s lawyer Elaine Sharpe, described how Aafia’s baby, Suleman, was believed to have been killed during the arrest. Dr Siddiqui was later shown a picture of her baby, lying in a pool of blood. It is not known if Suleman, who would now be 7 years old, is alive.

 

Pakistani papers mentioned reports the following day that a woman had been taken into custody of terrorism charges and confirmation came from a Pakistan Interior Ministry spokesman. The media reported that Aafia Siddiqui had been ‘picked up in Karachi by an intelligence agency’ and ‘shifted to an unknown place for questioning’. A year later, the press quoted a Pakistani government spokesman who said that she had been handed over to US authorities in 2003.

 

Aafia Siddiqui had been missing for more than a year when the FBI put her photographs on its website.

 

Aafia’s mother described in a BBC interview in 2003, how a ‘man wearing a motor-bike helmet’ which he did not remove, arrived at the family residence and warned her that if she ever wanted to see her daughter and grandchildren again, she should keep quiet. Both the Pakistan government as well as US officials in Washington denied any knowledge of Aafia’s custody. Aafia’s sister, Fowzia also says that she was told by the then Interior Minister Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat in 2004 that Aafia had been released and would return home soon

 

At almost precisely the same time that Aafia went missing, two other alleged Al Qaeda suspects disappeared from Karachi – Majid Khan and ‘Ali ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ‘Ali. They would be amongst hundreds arrested by the Pakistani intelligence services and handed over to the FBI and CIA as part of the War on Terror. Like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Khan and Ali would not reappear again until September 2006, following their transfer from CIA custody, where they were reportedly tortured including the use of waterboarding, to Guantanamo.

 

 

SECRET DETENTION

 

Aafia claims that she was kidnapped by the Pakistani intelligence services with her children and transferred into US custody. She further alleges that she was detained in a series of secret prisons for five years during which time she was repeatedly abused, tortured and raped. Aafia’s claim is substantiated by former Bagram detainees who affirmed the presence of a female detainee of Pakistani origin at Bagram, with the prisoner ID “650”. The International Committee for the Red Cross also confirmed that a woman had been detained at Bagram. Immediately after his release from Guantanamo in 2009, ex-Bagram detainee, Binyam Mohamed declared that the woman he saw in Bagram, with the prison no. 650, was indeed Aafia Siddiqui.

 

The US has previously denied the presence of female detainees in Bagram and that Aafia was ever held there, bar for medical treatment (after they shot her) in July 2008.

 

Little is known about what happened to Aafia and her children in the five years in which they were missing. However, in October 2009, when Aafia was visited by a Pakistani parliamentary delegation she spoke a little about the five years in which she had been disappeared, saying “I have been through living hell”. She described being given an injection and when she came to, she was in a cell. She said she was being brainwashed by men who spoke perfect English, who may have been Afghans. She did not think they were Pakistanis. She described being forced to make false confessions and sign statements. She alleged that she had been tortured although she provided no details. She was also told by her captors that if she did not co-operate, her children would suffer. During her trial, Aafia alluded to being tortured in secret prisons, to being raped, her children being tortured, and being threatened to be “sent back to the bad guys” – men she described as sounding like Americans but could not be “real Americans” but “pretend Americans” due to the treatment they had subjected her to. After her trial it emerged that the government of Pakistan had put a gag order on Aafia’s family in exchange for releasing her eldest son Ahmed.

 

Aafia’s lawyers, Elaine Sharpe and Elizabeth Fink, would later corroborate this by stating publicly that she had “been through years of detention, whose interrogators were American, who endured treatment fairly characterised as horrendous” and that she had been “tortured”.

 

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