Imran Khan batted for Afia Siddiqui in his PTI manifesto so did Pak Senate

By, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Jan 18, 2022 09:26 AM IST

Afia Siddiqui, called ‘Lady al Qaeda’ in counterterrorism circles, was arrested in 2008 and convicted of trying to kill US military officers while in custody in Afghanistan. She was closely linked to alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

The involvement of a Pakistani-origin UK national Malik Faisal Akram in the siege at a synagogue in the US state of Texas shows the deep-seated religious radicalisation within Pakistan and UK among Muslim community. If Akram was the spearhead, the Pakistan government has been instrumental in radicalising their own towards pan-Islamic jihadi causes since President Zia-ul-Haq days.

The manifesto of Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) had called for the release of Afia Siddiqui.(Reuters Photo)
The manifesto of Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) had called for the release of Afia Siddiqui.(Reuters Photo)

The siege at the Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville was led by Akram, who demanded the release of convicted Pakistani neuroscientist Afia Siddiqui, suspected of ties with Al Qaeda and currently serving an 86-year sentence in the Fort Worth prison after being convicted in 2010 of trying to kill US military officers while in custody in Afghanistan.

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In the past, the Pakistani government too has tried to free ‘Lady al Qaeda’ - as she is known in the counterterrorism circles. A few years ago, when Barack Obama was the President of the United States, the Pakistan officials had sent a proposal to release the woman in exchange of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

In 2018, the Pakistani Senate unanimously passed a resolution to take up the matter of Siddiqui’s release with the US, referring to her as the “daughter of the nation”.

Imran Khan, who is now the Prime Minister of Pakistan, competed with other Islamist political parties and jihadist groups to spearhead the campaign to free Siddiqui.

The manifesto of Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) grouped Siddiqui among the Overseas Pakistanis and said their “patriotic spirit” is valued by the party.

“Overseas Pakistanis are one of our biggest assets, who have consistently been denied access to their citizens' rights and to the opportunity to contribute to Pakistan's economy due to inefficient and incomplete processes along with poor quality infrastructure and services by previous governments. We will ensure voting rights for overseas Pakistanis,” the PTI manifesto said.

“We will provide consular and legal services to all Pakistanis jailed abroad. We make best efforts to bring prisoners like Dr. Afia Siddiqui and others back to Pakistan,” it further said.

Even the Taliban, which now rules Afghanistan, had shown their keen interest in Siddiqui’s release in exchange of Warren Weinstein, an American aid worker who was kidnapped by al Qaeda in Pakistan in 2011. Weinstein was killed in a US drone strike after being captive for four years.

Siddiqui comes from a well-educated Pakistan family with strong religious convictions. She graduated from the prestigious Massachusetts Information of Technology (MIT), and also received a doctorate degree in neurology from Brandeis University.

According to US intelligence officials, she appeared to be radicalised after the 9/11 attacks. She was connected to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks and believed to be acting as Al Qaeda’s courier to facilitate the shipping process of ammunition and weapons for a planned attack.

US officials say she disappeared in 2003 and re-appeared in 2008 in Afghanistan with the detailed information about American targets.

The family of 44-year-old Malik Faisal Akram, the latest to demand Siddiqui’s release, belongs to Jhelum district in Punjab and emigrated to the UK nearly 50 years ago. Malik was a member of Tabligh Jamaat and had travelled abroad earlier on work related to it, according to intelligence officials. He was married to a Gujrati Muslim lady and has five sons and a daughter.

His father is a known member of Muslim community in London and the family has political links through Malik Irfan, a Councillor linked to Labor Party, the officials further said.

Before carrying out the attack on the synagogue in Texas, he posted a Facebook Live video where Akram talked about his plans.

US President Joe Biden called the hostage-taking an "act of terror", with the UK condemning the attack soon after.

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    Author of Indian Mujahideen: The Enemy Within (2011, Hachette) and Himalayan Face-off: Chinese Assertion and Indian Riposte (2014, Hachette). Awarded K Subrahmanyam Prize for Strategic Studies in 2015 by Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA) and the 2011 Ben Gurion Prize by Israel.

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