Who was Dr.Aafia.... An Eyewitness Account

Who was Dr.Aafia.... An Eyewitness Account

This document began life in October 2008 as an e-mail to the author’s family and friends to explain why he cared so much about what happened to this “terribly dangerous woman.”

This story has been getting uneven play in the news in this country. Some of you may not even recognize her name.

The FBI began looking for Aafia Siddiqui in March 2003 for reasons never explained and the internet is full of guesses, ranging from the almost believable through outlandishly lurid.

These internet stories became sensational fantasy. “Lady al-Qaeda Leader Totes Three Small Children, Ex-Husband, New Husband, Boyfriend Around World While Directing Bin-Laden’s Biological Weapons and Internet Programs, Smuggling Diamonds from Africa, Laundering Money, Planning Attacks On Gasoline Stations In Maryland…”


These were all real headlines in 2003. Even a James Bond villain would have trouble matching them.

There is even one web site claiming that she can be found in the Bible, mentioned by name, as a sign of the coming Rapture, by using information published in the popular book “The Bible Code”.

You get the idea. The first story I came across read “FBI Looking for Female al-Qaeda Leader”. That was so odd. Don’t those bozos realize that al-Qaeda has no use for female leaders? They barely consider women to be human…

So I called her family and asked what was going on. Yes, you read that right. I have known Aafia, her brother, her sister, and their mother for decades.

They told me that Aafia and her three children, Ahmad, 6, Mirryam, 4, and Sulyman, six months, had disappeared one weekend in March, 2003 and that no one had heard from them since. Shortly after Aafia and her children disappeared the Pakistani government announced that she had been picked up and turned over to the US government. The US government denied having her in its custody, and the Pakistani government then denied arresting her.

Anonymous sources in Pakistan initially told her family to keep quiet about the disappearance and she and the children would be released soon. In the following months the message to the family was changed to keep quiet and you won’t be harmed.

As the months went by, her family assumed that she and the children were dead.

Aafia faded into limbo for more than a year, until summer 2004 when the Attorney General and the Director of the FBI announced that she was one of seven terrorists who were planning to disrupt the American presidential elections.

After that, Aafia and her children might as well have drifted off the edge of the world. Various human rights organizations added them to their list of people whose disappearances seemed to be linked to governmental actions in the Global War on Terror.

About two years ago a man who had been held at the US facility at Bagram in Afghanistan was released, and he told a story about the only woman held there. Half mad and crying all the time; subjected to “harsh interrogation techniques” and “physical indignities”. He identified her as Aafia Siddiqui.

She has also been described as “Prisoner 650″, “The Ghost of Bagram”, and “The Grey Lady.”

In early July 2008, a British journalist and a south Asian human rights group had collected enough evidence to pinpoint her location down to the cell number at Bagram, and they began legal proceedings to force the authorities to produce Aafia and her children. The American phrase is “habeas corpus”.

A few days later…

The original Afghani story:
On July 17, 2008, Afghani police, acting on an anonymous tip that a foreign woman was planning terrorist activities, arrested Aafia Siddiqui outside the governor’s compound in Ghazni, and discovered in her purse bottles of liquids, bomb making instructions, and a map of New York City landmarks.

During the arrest, Aafia fled towards a group of approaching American soldiers, and was shot by one of them who feared she was a suicide bomber. Afterwards, the Afghani policemen allowed the Americans to take her into custody.
The official American story:

On July 17, 2008, Afghani police, acting on an anonymous tip that a foreign woman was planning terrorist activities, arrested Aafia Siddiqui outside the governor’s compound in Ghazni, and discovered in her purse bottles of liquids, bomb making instructions, and a map of New York City landmarks.

The next day a group of American soldiers and FBI agents went to the police station where Aafia was being held and demanded that she be turned over to them. During this discussion, one of the American soldiers put his M4 rifle on the floor in front of a curtain, unaware that Aafia was behind it.

Aafia came out from behind the curtain, picked up the rifle, switched the safety to the “Fire” position, and fired twice before being overpowered by an Afghani translator and shot twice by an American soldier with his pistol. She continued to struggle and shout obscenities until she passed out.

Aafia’s story:
Aafia hasn’t really told much of her story. She has been allowed only limited contact with her lawyers and some brief visits with her brother, during which discussion of the last five years was forbidden.

So why am I telling you this odd story?

I have known Aafia, her brother, her sister, and their mother for decades. Over the years these people have become as close to me as anyone who shares my DNA. This is not a jihadi family. If I were to use any adjectives for them, “middle class Victorian” would work. Think of the family in “Mary Poppins” and throw in a few head scarves (and yes, for all of you sticklers for accuracy, I do know that the Banks family was technically Edwardian).


During the year and a half that Aafia lived in Houston I saw her about once a week at her brother’s house. Her interests were pretty much limited to her schoolwork and religion, and since my ability to participate in an intelligent conversation on science is limited we talked about religion.

The living and vibrant Islam she talked about, the Islam of mercy and redemption, the Islam of forgiveness and love, sounded very much like the Catholicism that my mother talks about. In fact, once you got past the accent and the different nouns, you had to wonder if they were talking about different religions.

She went on to get a degree in science from MIT and a PhD in Cognitive Neurology from Brandeis University. Got married, had kids, raised money for Bosnian war orphans, brought Korans to local jails, and was active in her local religious community . For those of you who don’t know the difference, I will use the Christian term you will be familiar with. This makes her a missionary not a terrorist.

Okay, people do change. It is possible that she has changed, but I will believe in a change that dramatic as soon as my mother joins al-Qaeda, and Mom is a nice Catholic lady.

It is also possible that she was lying to me the whole time I have known her, but anyone who has spent more than five minutes talking to her will agree that guile is not her forte.

I know Aafia and the rest of her family well enough to know that if she were hiding, whether in the mountains with Osama bin-Laden, or anywhere else, she would have contacted her mother to let her know she was alive, and if her mother knew she was alive, I would have known she was alive.

I am not asking any of you to pick sides. I am just asking you to be aware that you are hearing only the government’s side of the story.

Consider the possibility that the official story is not true. Consider the possibility that there are some very bad actors in our government who have wronged this woman and her children quite badly.

Wait a minute. I am asking you to pick sides. Aafia and her children were taken into custody in March 2003 and turned over to a series of intelligence agencies. There is at least one witness who can place her in Bagram in 2006.

In the face of legal activity to force her release, she was put out on the streets of Ghazni, Afghanistan wearing traditional Pakistani clothing and carrying incriminating materials. Being unable to speak any of the local languages, she was an obvious target for Afghani policemen who had been given an anonymous tip that a foreign woman was acting suspiciously.

The initial Afghani account has the ring of part of the truth. The events described in both the initial US complaint and the indictment describes an event that did not happen. The fancy term is perjury. It can’t be proven yet and it may not be possible to prove. Aafia does not have the resources to match the US government.

I am neither judge nor jury. I am a witness.
Andrew, Houston, Texas

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