The Hostage-Taking at Beth Israel Synagogue: What You Weren’t Told

It’s been just over two weeks since the latest act of Islamic terrorism on US soil and the powers at be in the Fourth Estate already have it all figured out. Hell, it took those brilliant motherfuckers less than two days to sum this tragedy up and they’ve already long since moved on to some other hysteria and forgotten all about it. But just for kicks, let’s go over their notes one more time.

The basic story goes that Malik Faisal Akram, a 44-year-old British citizen and aspiring jihadist, filled with blind Islamic rage and antisemitism, took 4 people hostage at the Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, including the rabbi, beginning a tense ten-hour stand-off with local and federal law enforcement. During these desperate hours, Akram repeatedly told FBI negotiators that his only demand was the release of a woman named Aafia Siddiqui, a notorious accused terrorist known as Lady Al-Qaeda being held at the nearby Federal Medical Center, Carswell. After 6 hours, Akram released a hostage in good faith. After 10 however, the remaining 3 hostages managed to escape, and an FBI swat team swooped in to execute Mr. Akram. Joe Biden declared the whole sorted affair to be an act of unspeakable terrorism motivated purely by simmering antisemitism. The media concurred and agreed ambiguously that more had to be done to prevent such evil and Bing! Bang! Boom! There you have it. Open and shut case. Black and white. Nothing left to see here folks. Move along and don’t forget to visit the gift shop on your way out

But I, being the curious cat that I am, had to stick around a while and ask a few more questions, and the more questions I asked about this case, the more questions I had, and the more questions I had, the less black and white this whole tragedy became. The biggest question was who is this shadowy Lady Al-Qaeda the news kept mentioning? And why was her freedom so damn important to a supposedly garden-variety jihadi nihilist like Malik Faisal Akram? The few answers that I found are far from pretty.

Dr. Aafia Siddiqui is or rather was a Pakistani-born behavioral scientist who came to the United States to study. A brilliant student, Aafia earned a biology degree from MIT and a PHD in neuroscience from Brandeis. She also married a fellow Pakistani immigrant named Mohammed Khan in a marriage arranged by her parents back home and gave birth to three children. Her colleagues pretty much all described her as a quiet but friendly, devout but far from fundamentalist Muslim. Aafia and her husband ran a small Islamic non-profit organization and she devoted much of her free time to missionary work, handing out Korans to prisoners while running a playgroup for disabled and neurodivergent children.

When Khan became abusive and controlling of Siddiqui, she divorced his loser ass and continued her studies while taking on the responsibilities of a single mother. She may have been a devout Muslim, but Dr. Siddiqui was anything but traditional. In her own quiet way, she was a trailblazer, living the kind of life many Muslim women in more conservative societies only dream of. Aafia Siddiqui seemed to have a bright future ahead of her. Then 9/11 happened and the American government decided to hijack her life.

Under the Islamophobic reign of Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller, both Siddiqui and her estranged husband were put on a wanted for questioning list while the feds openly admitted that they had no evidence that either had any real connections to terrorism. Their suspicions were based largely on the couple’s connections to charities on other paranoid FBI watch lists, but once the hysterical post-9/11 tabloids caught wind of a pretty young scientist with all kinds of spooky sounding science degrees they went nuts and constructed a ridiculous narrative straight out of a James Bond film about a femme fatale with a deadly expertise in the latest trend in Islamo-fascism, biochemical weapons. Once the New York Post had labeled her Lady Al-Qaeda and Fox News sank their fangs into the story, the dye was cast, and Dr. Siddiqui was as good as fucked. The fact that the woman studied cognitive neuroscience and was mainly focused on helping disabled children seemed irrelevant. Once the Bush Junta decided you were guilty, they made damn sure you were guilty.

In 2002, Aafia returned home to Pakistan with her children. In 2003, 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Muhammed allegedly coughed up Siddiqui’s name after being waterboarded 183 times. A month later, she and her children went missing in Karachi on their way to the airport. The Bush regime claimed she had gone underground to join Al-Qaeda and put her on their Most Wanted list. Siddiqui’s parents now claim that they were visited on the day of Aafia’s disappearance by Pervez Musharraf’s notoriously corrupt Pakistani Intelligence Agency and told to keep their mouths shut if they ever wanted to see their daughter and grandchildren alive again. It would be five years before Aafia resurfaced.

What happened during this time remains hotly debated but Dr. Siddiqui insists that after being kidnapped by the ISI she was handed over to the Americans and spent the next five nightmarish years in CIA black sites across Afghanistan, being brutally raped and tortured. This would hardly be a shocking turn of events considering that this kind of treatment was tragically customary for someone in Siddiqui’s precarious predicament and her story has been corroborated by both Pakistani officials as well as former prisoners of America’s notorious Bagram Prison who picked her out in a lineup as the infamous Prisoner 650, a young woman who’s routine sexual abuse and impoverished screams for mercy shocked even her most hardened fellow prisoners so much that they went on a hunger strike to protest her savage treatment. The American government continues to deny these harrowing stories, but Aafia Siddiqui’s name has appeared in two separate footnotes of a largely unreleased Senate Committee report on torture and no other sources have come forward to account for her whereabouts during those five years.

Aafia Siddiqui’s reappearance was every bit as bizarre as her disappearance. In 2008, after being AWOL since 2003, Siddiqui showed up with a young boy in tow in the Afghan city of Ghazni, hundreds of miles from her last known location, where she didn’t even speak the local languages. Emaciated and disoriented, babbling incoherently and wandering about the streets aimlessly, when Afghan police picked her up, they found the alleged fugitive terrorist mastermind carrying a handbag full of conveniently incriminating evidence- jars of strange chemical concoctions and paperwork boldly labeled with the names of high-profile American targets.

When the feds came to pick Siddiqui up the next day, we’re told with a straight face that a 90-pound grad student transformed into fucking Rambo, grabbed a mysteriously unattended assault rifle, and fired it wildly in close quarters at American soldiers and FBI agents without hitting a single person before they put two bullets in her stomach and extradited her to America for this mysterious shooting and this mysterious shooting alone. An Afghan guard would later testify that he never saw the sickly woman touch a gun. She was likely gunned down trying to escape men who dressed a lot like her rapists.

After all those years on FBI’s Most Wanted List as Lady Al-Qaeda, Aafia Siddiqui was never even charged with a single solitary terrorist act. In what largely amounted to a show trial, she was found guilty of five counts of attempted murder despite zero physical evidence- no fingerprints, no gunshot residue, no shell casings, not even a goddamn bullet hole, nothing but the contradictory testimony of her alleged victims. Aafia was gagged from even mentioning her imprisonment. She could do nothing but yell hysterically about Zionist conspiracy theories, her madness, induced by years of unspeakable trauma, only further incriminating her.

Dr. Aafia Siddiqui was found guilty and sentenced to 86 years in prison for an offense that would typically carry 20. Pakistan, a nation which had suffered its own trauma under the reign of American toadies like Pervez Musharraf was incensed. Thousands took to the streets. US Attorney General Ramsey Clark called it, “the worst case of individual injustice I have ever witnessed.” The rest of America shrugged and went back to work. Siddiqui’s youngest son, Sulieman, only 6 months old when she was kidnapped, has never been recovered. He is presumed dead. Over her years in maximum security, Aafia has continued to disintegrate. She has given up on her appeals and ceased most contact with the outside world. She is dead to all but the very few who remember her name. Considering all of this, what I now know about Aafia Siddiqui, I feel compelled to revisit what we think we know about Malik Faisal Akram.

What is a terrorist exactly? By the common dictionary definition of someone who uses violence to exact political gains, every member of Congress should be in Guantanamo Bay right now. What the general racist western zeitgeist views as a terrorist however is a suicidal jihadist looking to exact revenge against the west. I guess Akram technically fits this description, but what exactly makes someone so self-destructive?

Malik’s story in many ways is tragically typical of that of many radicalized Muslims. The son of refugees from a country colonized by the one he was raised in, Akram grew up angry and isolated with a childhood scarred by mental illness and petty crime. Against the odds, he managed to make something of himself by western standards, starting up a successful chain of pharmacies, but after his arranged marriage of twelve years fell apart so did Akram who sought comfort and belonging in a local fundamentalist sect. It’s been widely reported that Akram had been off and on British terrorist watch lists for years. What’s often not noted is that British intelligence failed to find a single connection between Akram and organized terrorism, and thousands of disaffected Muslim kids find themselves on these lists for no better reason than Aafia Siddiqui did.

And there was nothing particularly typical about Malik Faisal Akram’s crime. His intentions were clearly suicidal, but he made zero attempts to take anyone with him. He didn’t even fire a shot when his hostages hurled a chair at him and escaped. This wasn’t a mass shooting or a suicide bombing but a hostage crisis. A throwback to the era of Carlos the Jackal. Based on their hours of communication with Akram, the FBI controversially concluded that he was focused on a single issue, liberating Aafia Siddiqui, and that this aim was not specifically related to the Jewish community.

Malik likely picked the Temple because sadly the rights of Jews are the only rights the West seems to be concerned with in the Middle East. My guess is that Malik wanted to die but he wanted to give his death the sense of meaning that his life in the commercial wastelands western civilization lacked. He wanted the world to remember the name of another lost Muslim whose plight he connected with, and he felt that he needed a gun to do this. The most tragic thing about this long tragic story is that he was right. I myself wouldn’t have known the first thing about Aafia Siddiqui or Malik Faisal Akram for that matter if it wasn’t for this so-called terrorist attack and this says a hell of a lot more about the west than it does about Islam.

Why is empathy so goddamn hard for the modern world to grasp? The left goes on and on about social justice and privilege but what about the justice of Muslims living under the jackboot of the American war machine or their orphans searching aimlessly for some sense of direction in the banal melting pots of western capitalism? What about the privilege experienced by the entire western world which serves as the global 1% to the darker nation’s 99? As an anarchist living in the belly of the beast, I can’t help but feel like we need to do more to reach out to these people. We need to reach out to a diverse range of victims of state violence and embrace the fact that anarchy doesn’t have to mean abandoning the traditions that other cultures hold dear, but rather it can be a way to celebrate them autonomously without having to enforce them on others the way the west has enforced its shallow values on the Muslim world.

Nicky Reid is an agoraphobic anarcho-genderqueer gonzo blogger from Central Pennsylvania and assistant editor for Attack the System. You can find her online at Exile in Happy Valley.