KARACHI: One of the most prominent Pakistani prisoners in the US, who has been dubbed the ‘daughter of Pakistan’ by political parties, is also mentioned in one of the 75,000 reports leaked and published by WikiLeaks.
The role of Aafia Siddiqui
The report, which was first highlighted by Wired.com’s Danger Room blog after the files were published, was filed on July 18, 2008. The details of the arrest recorded correspond to the circumstances surrounding Aafia Siddiqui’s arrest.
While there are conflicting reports about Siddiqui’s whereabouts from 2003 to 2008, her arrest in Afghanistan put an end to the mystery and almost immediately made it to the Pakistani and international press. An initial report by AFP did not mention her by name but identified her as a Pakistani, since the “deputy police chief of Ghazni Abdul Ghani told reporters the woman had confessed she was from Multan and had come to the city to carry out a suicide attack”.
“While leaving work, Ghazni Afghan National Police (ANP) colonel Ghani Khan and his security detail discovered a woman and teenage boy after dark loitering/acting suspicious IVO (in vicinity of) the Ghazni Governors Compound. Upon questioning, the woman did not respond to Dari or Pashtu and appeared to only speak Urdu. The woman began to react abnormally and scream Allah Akhbar when ANP officers approached her.”
The details recorded match the circumstances and dates surrounding Aafia Siddiqui’s arrest, based on her initial indictment on September 2, 2008, and her conviction on February 3, 2010. The ‘teenage’ boy mentioned in the report presumably refers to Siddiqui’s son Ahmed, who was detained with her and handed over to her sister Fouzia Siddiqui on September 15, 2008.
According to the report, a search of her personal items “revealed a purse containing numerous documents on how to build explosives, chemical weapon use, targeting US military assets, excerpts from the Anarchist’s Arsenal and a 1 GB (gigabyte) thumb drive with additional related material. The woman also had unknown chemical materials sealed in containers in her purse.”
Officials also found documents on the thumb drive that had Siddiqui’s education details.
The report also indicates that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Afghan government, including President Hamid Karzai, were immediately involved in the case, probably because Siddiqui’s name had been on an FBI list for five years.
Wanted by the FBI
While Aafia Siddiqui went on trial specifically for the incident in Ghazni, Siddiqui’s inclusion on the FBI list was for murkier reasons. The FBI had been looking for Aafia Siddiqui since 2003, after she had been named by Khalid Sheikh Mohammad as someone who had been supporting al Qaeda activities in the US. Siddiqui was related to him, having married his nephew, Ammar alBaluchi in 2003. Al Baluchi, also detained in the US, is accused of several crimes including providing material support to terrorism and has been implicated in the 9/11 attacks.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammad has allegedly confessed being involved in or spearheading major terrorist plots, including the 9/11 attacks and journalist Daniel Pearl’s beheading.
She was questioned (along with her first husband, Amjad Khan) by the FBI in 2002 about why the couple had purchased night-vision goggles and body armour. She is widely believed to have been a fixer for al Qaeda in the US, and allegedly opened a post office box for an al Qaeda operative. She was also allegedly involved in buying ‘blood diamonds’ in Liberia to finance al Qaeda operations.
Guns in Ghazni
The events in Ghazni in July 2008 unfolded quickly. According to the WikiLeaks report, “The Governor of Ghazni has personally questioned at which point the suspect admitted to being there with the intent to kill him and Americans. The Governor intends to hold a press conference in the morning. President Karzai has been notified by the Ghazni Governor.” Her arrest differs from those cited in other reports published by WikiLeaks, which include dispatches of how Pakistani suspects, including soldiers, are handed over to the Afghan police or army.
The update recorded in the report would be the undoing of Siddiqui.
“While being questioned, the female got a hold of a weapon, pointed the weapon at the investigators and an investigator shot the female in self protection.”
This incident would see Siddiqui being convicted of “(1) one count of attempting to kill US nationals outside the United States; (2) one count of attempting to kill US officers and employees; (3) one count of armed assault of US officers and employees; (4) one count of using and carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence; and (5) three counts of assault of US officers and employees.”
The Pakistani government spent $2 million on Siddiqui’s legal defence, a move that caused consternation in Islamabad as to how government funds were being spent, given that Siddiqui was already marred with suspicion even before her arrest in Ghazni. To boot, sources claim that the extent to which the issue was politicised had caused an impasse in the US-Pakistan relationship, and hence the two governments had reached an understanding to release her before the trial.
‘You are infidels, don’t touch me!’
A report by the German publication Der Spiegel on her arrest in 2008 provides more details than those mentioned in the report published by WikiLeaks. According to Der Spiegel, “Bashir, one of the police officers, recalls that the woman began cursing at the men as the police attempted to take her away. ‘You are infidels; don’t touch me!’ she called out, three times, in her native Urdu. At first no one understood what the woman was saying. Hekmatullah, the owner of a nearby shop who, like many Afghans, uses only one name, could translate Urdu for the police officers. He remembers that the woman had a Pakistani passport and that she gave it to him and asked him to destroy it. He also remembers that her mobile phone rang twice, and that the calls were apparently coming from Pakistan.”
Since her indictment, the Afghan Taliban and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan have joined political parties in demanding her release.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 8th, 2010.