“Lady al Qaeda” Aafia Siddiqui, from her wanted poster.
A New York court sentenced Aafia Siddiqui, who has been dubbed “Lady al Qaeda” by the press, to 86 years in prison yesterday. Siddiqui’s sentence follows her conviction on charges related to an incident in July 2008, when she tried to kill American personnel in Afghanistan. Siddiqui grabbed a gun and reportedly opened fire on the Americans, who were trying to question her.
Siddiqui was one of the most wanted women in the world prior to her capture. American authorities learned that Siddiqui was intimately involved in al Qaeda’s plotting more than five years earlier.
In March 2003, the FBI issued a “Seeking Information Alert” for Siddiqui. The alert was issued after 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (“KSM” ) identified Siddiqui as a key al Qaeda facilitator during questioning.
KSM was captured on March 1, 2003, and initially resisted questioning, according to the CIA’s account. He was then subjected to so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including waterboarding, which have been the subject of much controversy. According to declassified CIA documents, KSM then became the US government’s “preeminent source” on al Qaeda.
In a cover story published in June 2003, Newsweek reported, relying on FBI documents, that KSM told his interrogators that Siddiqui was supposed to assist “other AQ operatives as they entered the United States.” Among them was an al Qaeda operative named Majid Khan, who attempted to enter the US from Pakistan. Khan had lived in the US with his family for a decade, but his residency had lapsed. In an attempt to dupe immigration authorities into believing that Khan was still an active resident, Siddiqui rented a P.O. box in Khan’s name.
Al Qaeda planned to have Khan enter the US and then blow up gas stations on the East Coast. Khan had worked at gas stations owned by his family in the Baltimore area, and KSM figured that Khan could put his knowledge of the facilities to al Qaeda’s use. Khan never got a chance to launch the attack, however. He was arrested just a few days after KSM in March 2003.
Siddiqui’s involvement in al Qaeda’s plotting was directed by her second husband, Ali Abd al Aziz Ali (aka Ammar al Baluchi), who is one of KSM’s nephews. Ammar al Baluchi was intimately involved in the 9/11 plot, al Qaeda’s attempts to launch a second attack against the US Homeland in 2002 and 2003, and also a plot against the US consulate in Karachi, Pakistan. Al Baluchi and Siddiqui, who was divorced from her first husband in 2002, married shortly before al Baluchi himself was detained in Pakistan in April 2003.
KSM, Ammar al Baluchi, and Majid Khan are all currently detained at Guantanamo. They were among the 14 high-value terrorists transferred to Gitmo from CIA detention facilities in 2006.
According to a biography of al Baluchi released by Department of Defense, al Baluchi directed Siddiqui “to travel to the United States to prepare paperwork to ease Majid Khan’s deployment to the United States” in 2002.
In March 2003, the same month Siddiqui was identified by KSM and the FBI released its alert, several other members of KSM’s network inside the US and elsewhere were identified. Declassified documents produced by the CIA reveal that all of them were identified during KSM’s interrogations.
Iyman Faris, an Ohio-based truck driver who was really an al Qaeda sleeper agent, was arrested on March 19, 2003. KSM tasked Faris with exploring a number of attacks, including the possibility of cutting the Brooklyn Bridge’s cables with gas cutters and derailing commuter trains.
Faris concluded that the Brooklyn Bridge plot would not work, and was exploring other types of attacks at the time of his capture. While in the FBI’s custody in 2003, Faris reportedly acted as a double-agent, allowing US authorities to uncover other al Qaeda-trained terrorists. Faris was subsequently convicted of providing material support to al Qaeda and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
On March 20, 2003, the FBI released a “Be on the Lookout” alert for Adnan el Shukrijumah. KSM identified Shukrijumah as a key al Qaeda terrorist who was likely to lead an attack on the US. Shukrijumah had lived in Florida, but may have been outside the US at the time. In any event, authorities failed to locate him. At some point, Shukrijumah made his way to northern Pakistan and today he is part of al Qaeda’s external operations wing. That is, he is tasked with plotting attacks against the US Homeland.
Shukrijumah was reportedly involved in al Qaeda’s plot against New York City commuter trains in 2009. [See LWJ report: Al Qaeda sleeper agent tied to 2009 NYC subway plot.]
On March 28, 2003, Uzair Paracha, a native Pakistani, was detained by the FBI in New York City. Uzair worked at an import-export company owned by his father, Saifullah Paracha, in the garment district of Manhattan. KSM told his interrogators that al Qaeda intended to use the Parachas’ business to smuggle explosives into the US for Majid Khan and other al Qaeda operatives to use in their attacks.
A key to the P.O. box rented by Siddiqui was found in Uzair’s apartment.
Uzair Paracha was subsequently convicted of providing material support to al Qaeda and sentenced to 30 years in a US prison. Saifullah was captured in Thailand in July 2003 and eventually transported to Gitmo, where he remains today. Declassified documents produced at Gitmo reveal that Saifullah met and conspired and with senior al Qaeda members, including Osama bin Laden. Saifullah allowed al Qaeda to use the services of a media company he owned, and also held onto large sums of cash for KSM.
In the months that followed, terrorist cells in Southeast Asia, Pakistan, and elsewhere were broken up based on intelligence supplied by KSM. Siddiqui went on the lam, evading capture until July 17, 2008, when she was arrested by the Afghan National Police in Ghazni, Afghanistan.
According to an indictment prepared by US prosecutors, Siddiqui had “various documents, various chemicals, and a computer thumb drive, among other things” in her possession when she was arrested. Handwritten notes she was carrying referred to a “mass casualty attack” and listed “various locations in the United States, including Plum Island, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street, and the Brooklyn Bridge.”
In addition, according to the indictment, “certain notes referred to the construction of ‘dirty bombs,’ chemical and biological weapons, and other explosives.” The notes “discussed mortality rates associated with certain of these weapons and explosives.”
Still other notes “referred to various ways to attack ‘enemies,’ including by destroying reconnaissance drones, using underwater bombs, and using gliders.”
Siddiqui’s computer thumb drive contained contained “correspondence that referred to specific ‘cells’ and ‘attacks’ by certain ‘cells’,” as well as documents discussing “recruitment and training.”
The notes and documents in Siddiqui’s possession reveal that she was most likely still involved in al Qaeda’s plotting against the US Homeland at the time of her capture. She apparently did not give up, even though many of her co-conspirators had been rolled up following KSM’s detention.
Prosecutors decided to focus only on Siddiqui’s attempted murder of American personnel in Afghanistan in July 2008. While the exact reason is not known, prosecutors have avoided dragging the CIA and its intelligence into the courtroom when possible. It is likely that they determined it was easier to convict Siddiqui of attempted murder.
That does not change the fact that Siddiqui was part of KSM’s terror network and continued to plot with her fellow al Qaeda members long after her arrest.
Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD’s Long War Journal.