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The plight of prisoner No. 650 (Dr. Afia Siddiqui)

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After intensive civil rights groups pressure and angry protests in Pakistan, the US authorities have formally acknowledged arresting Dr. Afia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist, five years after her mysterious disappearance in Karachi with her three teen age kids.

On August 5, the FBI suddenly produced Dr. Siddiqui in a New York court to charge her with possessing documents including recipes for explosives and chemical weapons and description of New York land marks plus firing two shots at a US army captain which, very conveniently, missed.

But the story of the circumstances, the timing and the place from where she had been picked up that the Americans purveyed for the world to believe hardly sounds credible.

According to the charge sheet, Dr Siddiqui was loitering outside the compound of Ghazni Governor in Afghanistan on July 17 this year when she was taken into custody and had in her possession numerous documents on making explosives, chemical weapons and other weapons involving biological material and neurological agents. Then while under detention at the notorious Bagram airbase cell she shot at American officials after getting hold of a rifle of one of them.

Tellingly, the story of the Afghan police in Ghazni contradicts the FBI charge sheet. The Afghan police said officers searched Siddiqui after reports of her suspicious behavior and found maps of Ghazni, including one of the governor’s house, and arrested her along with a teenage boy. US troops requested the woman be handed over to them but the police refused. US soldiers then disarmed the Afghan police, at which point Siddiqui approached the Americans complaining of mistreatment by the police. The US troops thinking that she had explosives and would attack them as a suicide bomber, shot her and took her.

According to the New York Times, the United States intelligence agencies have said that she had links to at least 2 of the 14 men suspected of being high-level members of Al Qaeda who were moved to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in September 2006. The charges against her, however, do not appear to be related to those allegations, but to her assault on the Americans who were about to question her.

The hearing cleared up none of the mysteries that have surrounded Ms. Siddiqui’s case since she disappeared with her three children while visiting her parents’ home in Karachi, Pakistan, in March 2003.

Her mysterious disappearance story

Dr. Afia Siddiqui left her mother's house in Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Karachi, Sindh province, along with her three children, in a Metro-cab on March 30, 2003 to catch a flight for Rawalpindi, but never reached the airport. The press reports claimed that Dr. Afia had been picked-up by Pakistani intelligence agencies while on her way to the airport and initial reports suggested that she was handed over to the American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). At the time of her arrest she was 30 years and the mother of three sons the oldest of which was four and the youngest only one month. (Still there is no news about her three children.)

A few days later an American news channel, NBC, reported that Afia had been arrested in Pakistan on suspicion of facilitating money transfers for terror networks of Osama Bin Laden. A Monthly English magazine of Karachi in a special coverage on Dr. Afia reported that one week after her disappearance, a plain clothed intelligence went to her mother's house and warned her, "We know that you are connected to higher-ups but do not make an issue out of your daughter's disappearance." According to the report the mother was threatened her with 'dire consequences' if she made a fuss.

Dr. Afia Siddiqui, who studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US, for about 10 years and did her PhD in genetics, returned to Pakistan in 2002. Having failed to get a suitable job, she again visited the US on a valid visa in February 2003 to search for a job and to submit an application to the US immigration authorities. She moved there freely and came back to Karachi by the end of February 2003 after renting a post office box in her name in Maryland for the receipt of her mail. It has been claimed by the FBI (Newsweek International, June 23, 2003, issue) that the box was hired for one Mr Majid Khan, an alleged member of Al Qaeda residing in Baltimore.

Throughout March 2003 flashes of the particulars of Dr. Afia were telecast with her photo on American TV channels and radios painting her as a dangerous Al Qaeda person needed by the FBI for interrogation. On learning of the FBI campaign against her she went underground in Karachi and remained so till her kidnapping. The June 23, 2003, issue of Newsweek International was exclusively devoted to Al Qaeda. The core of the issue was an article "Al Qaeda's Network in America". The article has three photographs of so-called Al Qaeda members - Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, Dr. Afia Siddiqui and Ali S. Al Marri of Qatar who has studied in the US like Dr. Siddiqui and had long since returned to his homeland. In this article, which has been authored by eight journalists who had access to FBI records, the only charge leveled against Dr. Afia is that "she rented a post-office box to help a former resident of Baltimore named Majid Khan (alleged Al Qaeda suspect) to help establish his US identity.

At a news conference in May 2004, US Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller announced that the FBI was looking for seven people with suspected ties to Al Qaeda. MIT graduate and former Boston resident Aafia Siddiqui was the only woman on the list.

The prisoner No. 650 at the notorious US prison at Bargham, Afghanistan

Dr. Afia’s plight was highlighted by a British journalist and peace activist, Yvonne Ridley, who flew to Pakistan to address a press conference in Islamabad on July 7, 2008. “Today I am crying out for help, not for myself but for a Pakistani woman neither you nor I have ever met. She has been held in isolation by the Americans in Afghanistan and she needs help,” Ridley told a crowded press conference.

Ridley first learnt about the woman while reading a book by Guantanamo ex-detainee Moazzam Begg. One of the four Arabs who escaped from the infamous Bagram cell in July 2005 also told a television channel that he had heard a woman’s cries and screams in the prison but never saw her.

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Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American (more...)
 
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