PHILADELPHIA – January 18, 2022 – The near-tragedy in Texas is a much needed reminder about the dangers of jihad. Here are six facts to consider following Malik Faisal Akram's terrorist attack on the Colleyville, TX synagogue, where he demanded the release of Aafia Siddiqui, "Lady Al Qaeda," from federal prison.
1. U.S. Vetting for Potential Jihadist Infiltrators Is Weak
Akram had been investigated by British security services in 2020 as a potential Islamist terrorist threat. Yet, he was allowed to enter the U.S. at the end of last year.
The Middle East Forum has a detailed plan to identify and weed out Islamist immigrants – differentiating them from moderate Muslims – presenting 93 questions to ask would-be immigrants.
2. Islamists Bear a Moral Responsibility for the Attack
a. Advocating for the release of convicted terrorists
Islamist organizations such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) should be held accountable for the events at Congregation Beth Israel, since they perpetuated wildly inaccurate conspiracies about Siddiqui's crimes and regularly promoted antisemitic views.
Self-described Muslim civil rights groups have spent more than a decade rallying for an end to Siddiqui's 86-year prison sentence, imposed after the Pakistan American was found guilty of trying to kill U.S. soldiers and plotting terrorist attacks. They have staged protests and held rallies proclaiming Siddiqui's innocence and denouncing U.S. counter-terrorism efforts.
They have also called for the release of other convicted criminals with an Islamist ideology, like the Blind Sheikh and Jamil al-Amin.
Siddiqui's incarceration has united both Arab and South Asian Muslims belonging to a variety of Islamist movements, many of which were represented at an October protest outside of the Pakistani Consulate in New York, where participants referred to her arrest as a war against Islam.
"Our religion, our book, our faith was desecrated when [Siddiqui] was tortured. And our prophet is disappointed because we have not done enough for her," said Yousef Baig, formerly of CAIR-Houston.
During a CAIR press conference in November, Siddiqui was described as "one of the greatest victims" in the War on Terror, who was "kidnapped" by U.S. authorities. A CAIR-Texas social media post advertising the event even claims that she was "repeatedly tortured and raped" by her American captors.
"The unjust incarceration of Dr. Siddiqui cannot be atoned for by simply releasing her, but her release would be a step in the right direction by allowing her to be returned back to Pakistan," warned CAIR-Michigan Director Dawud Walid.
b. Trafficking in Antisemitism
The Colleyville attack was not just a symptom of jihadist conspiracies surrounding the War on Terror. Antisemitism dominates Islamist rhetoric and activism, and it was no coincidence that the gunman chose a synagogue to carry out his plans.
In November, CAIR-San Francisco Director Zahra Billoo warned of "Zionist synagogues" and advised Muslims against working with "polite Zionists" known for their interfaith outreach.
Mauri Saalakhan, head of the Aafia Foundation, remains one of Siddiqui's most ardent defenders. Yet, shortly after the hostages' escape from custody in Colleyville, Saalakhan claimed in a video address that local Zionists harassed Siddiqui for her religious beliefs while she attended school in Boston.
"This was somebody who literally thought that Jews control the world," recalled Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, one of four hostages to survive the ordeal. "[Akram] thought he could come into a synagogue, and we could get on the phone with the 'Chief Rabbi of America' and he would get what he needed."
3. Aafia Siddiqui is a Terrorist Icon
Siddiqui earned the moniker "Lady Al-Qaeda" in 2004, after the FBI named her as one of seven senior al-Qaeda figures plotting attacks against the United States. FBI director Robert Mueller described her at the time as "an al Qaeda operative and facilitator."
Years later, Siddiqui was captured in Afghanistan. Upon her arrest, investigators found "handwritten notes that referred to a 'mass casualty attack'" and listed "various locations in the United States, including Plum Island, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street, and the Brooklyn Bridge." Other notes found on Siddiqui included reference to "the construction of 'dirty bombs.'"
While being questioned by U.S. military and FBI officials in Ghazni, Afghanistan, Siddqui "grabbed a U.S. Army officer's M-4 rifle and fired it at another U.S. Army officer and other members of the U.S. interview team."
In the lead-up to her trial, Siddiqui rejected lawyers with purported Jewish ancestry, and she demanded that Jews be excluded from the jury. In September 2010, she was sentenced to 86 years for attempted murder.
4. Jihadists Have Long Sought Siddiqui's Release
Major jihadist groups have demanded Siddiqui's release since her conviction, including the Taliban, Al Qaeda and ISIS. European jihadists even named their vehicles, driven in convoys to Syria, in honor of Siddiqui.
Major jihadist groups have sought to trade Western hostages to secure Siddiqui's release.
In particular, Islamists have sought to trade Western hostages to secure Siddiqui's release. ISIS tried unsuccessfully to barter for her release by offering to exchange American think journalist James Foley. Following Foley's gruesome beheading, ISIS offered the same deal for journalist Steven Sotloff, who subsequently met the same end.
5. Siddiqui's Champions Are Welcome in Washington
Despite their radical views, Siddiqui's Islamist champions enjoy access to the highest political offices in the United States. For example, the Coalition for Civil Freedoms (CCF) regularly lobbies Congress on behalf of terrorist offenders, successfully commuting sentences and securing the release of prisoners from Guantanamo Bay. Its audience has included presidential candidates and senators from both sides of the aisle, legitimizing its cause and bringing Siddiqui one step closer to freedom.
In fact, the events in Colleyville have only served to further galvanize CCF and other Islamists. Even as the hostage situation was "ongoing," the coalition issued a press release calling on "President Biden to immediately consider" a petition to commute Siddiqui's sentence.
6. Gunman Akram May Have Belonged to the Radical Deobandi Sect
Siddiqui has long been the object of accolades within networks in both South Asia and the West that belong to the Deobandis, a Sunni South Asian Islamist movement to which Siddiqui and her family belonged. The best-known offshoot of the Deobandis is, in fact, the Taliban.
In the West, counter-extremism analysts in the UK have warned that Deobandis control over 40 percent of British mosques. Figures for the extent of Deobandi networks in the United States are not known, although the Middle East Forum has identified dozens of prominent Deobandi institutions with radical ties. The deceased gunman Akram attended Masjid-e-Irfan, a Deobandi mosque in the British city of Blackburn.
A close relative of Akram is reported to have noted that he was also a member of Talbighi Jamaat, a Deobandi missionary organization which Western security officials have implicated in dozens of terrorist plots.
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