“Lady al Qaeda” Aafia Siddiqui, from her ‘wanted’ poster.
Top al Qaeda ideologue Abu Yahya al Libi has released a new propaganda tape, entitled “Aafia Siddiqui…Captivity and Oppression, So Where Are the Heroes?” Al Libi calls on Muslims to wage jihad to avenge Aafia Siddiqui, who was sentenced in September to 86 years in prison for attempting to shoot American officials in Afghanistan.
Prior to her capture in July 2008, Siddiqui, who has been dubbed “Lady al Qaeda” by the press, was one of the world’s most wanted women because of her role in 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s terror network. According to US intelligence and military officials, Siddiqui was involved in KSM’s post-9/11 plotting against the US homeland. She had been tasked, among other assignments, with helping an al Qaeda operative sneak into the US to attack gas stations on the East Coast. [For a description of Siddiqui’s al Qaeda role, see LWJ report, ‘Lady Al Qaeda’ sentenced to 86 years in prison.]
In his new tape, al Libi claims that Muslim women are being imprisoned and tortured throughout the world and that it is the duty of Muslims everywhere to avenge them. Al Libi argues that merely protesting on Siddiqui’s behalf, as many in Pakistan and elsewhere have done, is not enough.
“America that has kidnapped your Muslim sister and her two sons is not far away from you, nor are there seas nor land nor boundaries nor barriers that inhibit you from reaching it,” al Libi says, according to a translation obtained by The Long War Journal.
Al Libi continues by saying that America’s “bases and soldiers are within reach” and “its convoys even traverse your lands in plain daylight, carrying death and destruction to your brothers in Afghanistan.” America’s “intelligence centers and prisons,” “airplanes that harvest Muslims in tribal regions,” and ships are all within reach, al Libi says.
“Kill them wherever you find them,” al Libi commands.
Al Libi’s tape is the second al Qaeda propaganda tape produced in recent months that implores Muslims to wage jihad on Siddiqui’s behalf. In November, al Qaeda number two Ayman al Zawahiri released a tape entitled, “Who Will Avenge the Scientist Aafia Siddiqui?” Zawahiri called on Pakistanis to “take the only available path, that of jihad … which will liberate Aafia Siddiqui.”
The Bagram myth
Al Libi highlights and embellishes upon one of the most enduring myths concerning Siddiqui: that she was secretly imprisoned and tortured at the American-run detention facility in Bagram for years. She has been called the “Grey Lady of Bagram” by her supporters, alluding to her alleged time there. There is no evidence to back up this claim, yet it is widely believed in Pakistan and elsewhere. According to a recently leaked State Department cable made available on the Guardian’s (UK) website, Bagram officials have denied ever holding Siddiqui.
Al Qaeda operatives, however, have taken to making up stories about seeing Siddiqui there. Al Libi himself was once held at Bagram until he escaped in 2005. During his time there, al Libi claims, Siddiqui was “there before us and her [internment] number was 650,” which was “one of the older numbers in the prison.” Al Libi continues: “How we used to hear her scream and yell in her solitary cell. In order to save honor, blood has to be shed.”
The Bagram myth is used by al Qaeda, and even the broader public in Pakistan, to explain Siddiqui’s supposedly “missing” years between 2003 and 2008. In March 2003, after KSM named her as one of his accomplices during interrogations by CIA officials, the FBI issued a “Seeking Information Alert” for Siddiqui. The FBI added Siddiqui to its most wanted list in May 2004. In addition to the aforementioned officials at Bagram, US authorities have repeatedly denied that she was ever held prior to 2008. She was most likely on the lam until she was captured in July of that year. Still, the fiction that Siddiqui and her children were kidnapped by American officials has endured.
Pakistan has repeatedly lobbied for Siddiqui’s release
State Department cables released by Wikileaks reveal that Pakistani government officials have repeatedly, and persistently, lobbied the US government to transfer Siddiqui. The cables reveal, however, that such lobbying was likely carried out to assuage popular discontent with Siddiqui’s imprisonment. The same cables note that the Pakistani public’s support for Siddiqui is based on widespread misinformation.
An Oct. 29, 2008 cable notes that Pakistani Acting Foreign Secretary Khalid Babar “reiterated…requests to repatriate” Siddiqui in a meeting with US Ambassador Anne Patterson. The cable notes that although press reports in Pakistan said Babar had made a “strong protest” in this vein, as well as in his objections to US airstrikes on Pakistani soil, his discussion was really “pro forma.”
“We have told the [Ministry of Foreign Affairs] repeatedly that there currently is no legal basis to repatriate” Siddiqui, the cable reads, “and we have no idea on the location of her other two children.”
A Nov. 11, 2008 cable says that Pakistani Prime Minister Yousef Gilani asked a US congressional delegation to pursue Siddiqui’s release to Pakistani custody. “Gilani argued that the needs of her family and reports of her being ill provided humanitarian grounds for such a transfer,” the cable reads. Gilani “also argued that her case whipped up mass popular support, diverting his government’s attention from the counterterrorism mission.”
Another cable, dated Feb. 12, 2010, notes the strong negative reaction to the guilty verdict handed down in Siddiqui’s case. The State Department noted that the Afghan Taliban had threatened to kill a US soldier they had kidnapped if Siddiqui wasn’t released. In addition, “Jamaat-e-Islam (JI) women activists demonstrated outside the party’s headquarters in Mansoora.” According to the US embassy’s analysis, widespread criticism of the US as “anti-Muslim,” as well as criticism of the Pakistani government for supposedly not doing enough to secure Siddiqui’s release, was being fanned by the Pakistani press.
“Many Pakistanis were undoubtedly taken by surprise by the verdict as one-sided media coverage of the case reported only her defense and not the prosecution’s case, leading local observers to conclude her acquital [sic] was a near certainty,” the cable reads.
“We expect this issue to persist for some time as a nationalistic cause with the active involvement of the JI who never tire of anti-American agitation.”
Still another cable, dated Feb. 19, 2010, recounts a meeting between high-level Pakistani officials and Senator John Kerry. The cable says that PM Gilani “asked the [US government] to consider repatriating Dr. Aafia Siddiqui on humanitarian grounds.” Gilani said “that this was a very contentious issue in Pakistan” and that by returning Siddiqui “the U.S. would be in the Pakistani people’s good graces.”
Gilani and Interior Minister Rehman Malik “assured Kerry that the [Government of Pakistan] would honor the terms of Dr. Siddiqui’s jail sentence, and suggested that she complete her jail time under house arrest.”
The cable concludes: “Kerry agreed to look into the prisoner transfer issue.”
A propaganda ploy
By focusing on Aafia Siddiqui’s case, al Qaeda is clearly trying to tap into deep anti-American sentiment, as well as widespread discontent with the Pakistani government. Aafia Siddiqui has become the subject of popular mythology. In the Pakistani public’s imagination she is not an al Qaeda operative who evaded American authorities for years, but instead a victim of the American-led “war on terror.” The Pakistani government has attempted to placate this resentment by lobbying for Siddiqui’s release, but has failed.
Al Qaeda knows this and is attempting to win more support for its jihadist agenda by highlighting the ineffectiveness of the Pakistani government’s attempts to secure Siddiqui’s release. Al Qaeda also seeks to play on the widely held misconception in Pakistan that the US is “anti-Muslim” for imprisoning Siddiqui.