Less than four days after a gunman held four Jews hostage inside a Texas synagogue in a doomed attempt to free a convicted terrorist, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) thinks it is ready to renew its campaign to achieve the same objective.
“It’s time to push back,” CAIR’s Dallas chapter director Faizan Syed wrote on Jan. 19. “The news coverage around Dr. Aafia Siddiqui over the last few days has been inaccurate, one-sided and made to paint a victim of the war on terror as a terrorist. The ‘Free Dr. Aafia Campaign’ has developed a media and public resource guide to correct the false narrative.”
Syed ended his post with the hashtags #FreeAafia #IAmAafia.
Siddiqui is a U.S.-educated Pakistani serving 86 years in prison for attempting to kill U.S. personnel in Afghanistan. She carried sodium cyanide and various other chemicals when she was arrested, along with documents in her handwriting that mentioned a “mass casualty attack … NY city monuments” and “Dirty bomb: Need few oz. radioactive material.”
The U.S. personnel who tried to interview her were unaware that she was left unsecured behind a partition in the room. One of the Army personnel put his M4 rifle down. Siddiqui was able to grab it and open fire, said prosecutors. Her shots missed, and she was wounded by return fire.
But CAIR and other Islamist groups in the United States say Siddiqui is innocent—a victim of torture during years of secret detention and someone incapable of the attack as described by the government and the witnesses present.
It turns out CAIR’s commitment to Siddiqui’s cause goes far beyond the seminars and protests that have been reported this week. CAIR is one of the driving forces behind the “Free Dr. Aafia Movement” and is directly raising money for her defense.
“The Free Dr. Aafia Movement is a joint project between CAIR-Texas Austin & DFW and the Elbially Law Firm who legally represents Dr. Aafia Siddiqui,” according to the Free Dr. Aafia website, created in August. “Our goal is to create campaigns, build coalitions, and educate the world about Dr. Aafia so we can one day see her released from prison and returned to her children.”
“Together, we will free Dr. Aafia Siddiqui!” a donation link says. “Funds are collected through CAIR-TX Austin & DFW for disbursement.”
Attorney Marwa Elbially and the Free Aafia campaign issued a statement on Jan. 15 as Malik Faisal Akram held Congregation Beth Israel Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker and three others hostage during Shabbat.
“His actions are heinous and wrong,” said the statement. “Her case must be addressed through the courts of law. Dr. Aafia and her family are praying for this situation to resolve peacefully.”
One hostage was released around 5 p.m. during the standoff. Akram was shot and killed by law-enforcement agents later that night after Cytron-Walker threw a chair at him, allowing him and two others times to escape.
Syed’s post on Wednesday included a link to a “resource guide” to correct what he called a false narrative about her. For example, CAIR and other advocates point to a lack of gun powder residue on Siddiqui’s hands after the shooting.
During a December seminar in East Plano, Syed called Siddiqui’s case “one of the greatest cases of injustice in U.S. history.”
But the Second U.S. Court of Appeals noted that “one of Siddiqui’s own witnesses … testified that two rifle shells were recovered from the room, and by a government expert’s testimony that the absence of certain forensic evidence from the room was not necessarily inconsistent with the firing of a weapon.”
The guide also cites Siddiqui’s small build to cast down on whether she could have handled the M4 and switched off its safety in order to open fire. In fact, trial evidence showed that she was trained on handling and shooting firearms while a student in Boston.
Her trial featured testimony from six eyewitnesses, who described the attack consistently in detail. Prosecutors say that “perjury, in this case, was blatant, and it concerned the central issue in this case—whether she attempted to kill members of the Interview Team.”
The guide claims there are no “direct, provable links” to Al-Qaeda, omitting Siddiqui’s 2003 marriage to a nephew of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed.
The CAIR guide does acknowledge her frequent anti-Semitic outbursts but excuses them by saying “she was mentally impaired and should be understood in the larger context of her overall mental health.” It also dismisses the fact that terrorist groups, including ISIS and the Taliban, offered to release American hostages in exchange for Siddiqui’s freedom. Those efforts are not due to Siddiqui’s status, it says, but are efforts by the terrorists to “gain legitimacy by exploiting the case of Dr. Siddiqui. For news outlets to aid and abet these terrorist organizations by making that link is reprehensible and unethical.”
On Sunday, The Washington Post described Siddiqui as “a cause célèbre in Islamist militant circles, with frequent demands for her release.”
That description also applies to multiple American-based Islamist groups, such as CAIR and the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), which are championing her cause. But the Post has not reported about this domestic Islamist effort to free Siddiqui.
In addition to the Dallas chapter’s leading role in the campaign, CAIR chapters throughout the country have held protests calling for Siddiqui’s freedom. At an October rally in New York, two former CAIR officials cast her case in religious terms.
“She carries our faith within her, and our faith has been assaulted when Aafia was assaulted,” said Yousef Baig, who used to work in CAIR’s Houston office. “Our religion, our book, our faith was desecrated when she was tortured. And our prophet is disappointed because we have not done enough for her.”
“Allah is testing us,” former CAIR Florida executive director Hassan Shibly told the rally. “What are we doing to stand for our sister, for her family, for all those victims of the United States war of terror against the Muslim world? She is another victim of the U.S. war of terror. And the perpetrators will be held accountable, if not in this life, in the next. [Donald] Rumsfeld, [George H.W.] Bush senior, [Colin] Powell—they are all answering for their deeds at this very moment. And they must answer for each and every Iraqi, Afghani, Pakistani, every person of color, every person throughout the world whose blood has been shed.”
It’s one thing to ensure a defendant receives a fair trial in a court of law. It’s quite another to reject what courts saw as “overwhelming” evidence about a woman with family ties to Al-Qaeda.
Perhaps, someday, CAIR “will be held accountable” for that.
Research analyst Teri Blumenfeld contributed to this report.
Steven Emerson is executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism; the author of eight books on national security and terrorism; the producer of two documentaries; and the author of hundreds of articles in national and international publications.
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