Family Defends Former University Of Houston Student Accused of Terrorism

Posted by on May 6th, 2011 and filed under Community, Opinion, Recent Posts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry


HOUSTON — The case of Aafia Siddiqui seems to fit the pattern of Houston popping up on the terror radar screen.

One former neighbor in Houston described her as a diminutive, attractive young woman who lived with her brother, an architect, while she attended the University of Houston.

Those who knew her then now say they cannot believe what has become of her. She is imprisoned at the Carswell Federal Medical Center in Fort Worth after being convicted last September of trying to shoot U.S. agents.

Federal prosecutors suggested she was a high-level operative of Al-Qaeda. They alleged she was found in Afghanistan with chemicals in sealed jars, instructions on making dirty bombs and handwritten notes for a “mass casualty attack” on American targets.

Siddiqui’s family said the allegations are nothing more than a horrible case of mistaken identity.

“Her family has said all along this is just not the person we know,” said Mauri’ Saalakhan, a human-rights activist based in Washington D.C., who was in Houston this weekend.

He acts as a Siddiqui family spokesperson.

“They found nothing,” said Saalakhan, referring to what the U.S. government said was a bag of incriminating evidence. He said the family believes someone named Siddiqui was indeed mentioned by Al Qaeda operatives, who the CIA and FBI interrogated at the Guantanamo prison.

The link was recently highlighted in an article in the British newspaper, The Guardian, in a story titled “Guantánamo files paint Aafia Siddiqui as top al-Qaida operative.”

But Siddiqui’s supporters said the person indentified was someone else.

“They came to the realization that the person they thought she was … wasn’t,” said Saalakhan, who said he believes that US agents worked with their Pakistani counterparts to maintain the charade.

Saalakhan and a group in New York called the International Justice Network are trying to expose what they said were inconsistencies and fabrications in the case against Siddiqui. For example, that in the supposed gunfire between her and U.S. soldiers and agents in Afghanistan, there was no evidence introduced showing shell casings were found from the M4 automatic rifle Siddiqui was charged with firing.

Whatever the truth, the case of Aafia Siddiqui seems to fit a familiar pattern: Muslims, some of them of Pakistani descent, growing up in Houston or coming here to study, then being snagged by the FBI and accused of being terrorists.

Newly leaked U.S. intelligence reports quoted in The Guardian article said Saddiqui told al-Qaeda senior operatives she was willing to help make biological weapons, though she never actually did. If true, it’s what some terrorism experts here in Houston have feared.

“She could easily be involved in biological weapons … because of her education and because of her background. And clearly that is a great fear,” said Joan Neuhaus Schaan, a top terrorism advisor to the City of Houston and a fellow at the Baker Institute at Rice University.  “I’d say the pattern is unfolding here.”

It is a pattern as seen in past cases of alleged Jihad sympathizers arrested by the FBI.

The cases have meant that Houston — the world’s energy capital with an international and highly educated workforce and a large Muslim population — keeps popping up on the terror radar screen.

One recent example involved an annual, international summit for Islamic education held here in Houston. It is called Ilm Summit, sponsored by the Al Maghrib Institute and will be held again this July at the Crown Plaza Hotel in the Greenspoint area.

A young Nigerian, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, now known as the “underpants bomber” after he allegedly tried to blow up a Detroit-bound plane in 2009, attended the conference in 2008.

“But at that time I think he was searching,” said Waleed Basyouni, Al Maghrib’s vice president.

Basyouni said once they learned of the Nigerian’s arrest, they cooperated with Houston FBI agents. He said there was nothing to hide.

“Terrorism is a forbidden act in Islam…There is no doubt about that,” Basyouni said.

Basyouni spoke with KHOU 11 News along with two young Muslims at a mosque in Clear Lake where Basyouni is the Imam.

Iesa Galloway, a program coordinator with Interfaith Ministries, said he has a problem with the idea that Houston has a special connection to extremists.

“You have the fourth largest city in America with a very significant Muslim population, you can actually connect Houston to anything,” said Galloway.

Asmaa Hussein, a nursing student at UTMB, said her religion demands she be “a good American citizen” and the thought of bringing harm to the country is repugnant, she said. She said while she knows of no Muslim friends who identify one bit with jihadists, she could see how a young Muslim could be pushed to resentment, given some of her experiences growing up in the Houston area and attending public schools.

“In high school, people would come up to me and ask, ‘Are you related to Saddam Hussein, since your last name is Hussein?’ And I just laughed at them, like, ‘What are you talking about?’” said Hussein.

What has motivated those accused of becoming extremists, if the allegations are true?

In the case of the Pakistani woman, Siddiqui, her family maintains there was nothing to indicate a shift to extremism. Just the opposite, they said she was known for doing charity work while she lived in the States.

Last October, after a Federal judge sentenced her to 86 years, she hand-wrote a letter to the judge. In it, she calls the sentence “unfair,” but said she would not appeal it. Instead, she wrote, “I have made my appeal to God and it has been answered.”

Her supporters said they will continue to pursue other options, including a deal they hope will someday involve the Pakistani government agreeing to take custody of Siddiqui.


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