Until the Jan. 15 hostage-taking at a Texas synagogue, few Americans had heard the name of convicted terrorist Aafia Siddiqui, a 49-year-old Pakistan-born scientist serving an 86-year sentence in a federal penitentiary near Fort Worth.
The daughter of an English-trained, Pakistani doctor, Siddiqui attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and earned a Ph.D. from Brandeis University.
"While a student in Boston, Massachusetts, Siddiqui had undertaken training and instruction on the handling and shooting of firearms," the FBI said in a 2010 statement. Siddiqui also volunteered with the Muslim Students Association (MSA), a network of Islamist students across North American schools and universities. They proselytize Islam and are accused of following the Muslim Brotherhood agenda of Islamizing the West from within.
Siddiqui lived in the United States from roughly 1991 to June 2002 and returned to Pakistan for about a week beginning Dec. 25, 2002, federal prosecutors said. After the 9/11 attack, Siddiqui apparently became radicalized, divorced her husband who was in the US completing his studies. She disappeared with their three children.
She later married a nephew of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. By 2008 U.S. officials were calling her a wanted terrorist and she was arrested inside Afghanistan and accused of attacking American law-enforcement personnel who went to interview her there.
The Americans claim during her arrest she grabbed a rifle and shot at U.S. soldiers, one of whom shot back and injured her. She was charged in a New York federal court with attempted murder and armed assault on U.S. officers.
Aafia Siddiqui is actually a celebrity in Pakistan and among some Muslim groups across the West. She is the icon of Islamists who are seeped in Jew hatred and mostly originate in Pakistan and other South Asian countries where "son of a Jew" is a common slur.
Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan is one of her champions and his party's manifesto explicitly declares her innocent of any crime, designating the convicted terrorist as the "Daughter of the Nation."
President Joe Biden called the hostage standoff in a Texas synagogue an act of terror. Speaking in Philadelphia on Sunday he also said the hostage-taker identified as British national Malik Faisal Akram purchased weapons on the street.
Profiling jihadi terrorists, former CIA terrorism expert Robert Baer told CNN: "In their mind, Israel is a Western conspiracy, an American conspiracy and the Jewish community in the United States and around the world is somehow responsible for this."
Siddiqui was one of those people. She has a long history of anti-Semitic statements — even though she studied for an advanced degree at a university closely tied to the Jewish community.
In 2009, while awaiting trial on charges that she tried to kill American servicemen, Siddiqui tried to fire her lawyers because of their Jewish background. Siddiqui later demanded that jurors in her trial be DNA tested to prove they weren't Jewish.
"If they have a Zionist or Israeli background, they are all mad at me," she said. "They should be excluded if you want to be fair."
Since her capture and conviction, she has been a symbol and rallying cry to extremist Muslims worldwide, many of whom echo the delusional anti-Semitic theories she promoted.
No wonder the Pakistani Briton who took hostages to free Siddiqui chose to target a synagogue and not any ordinary meeting centre.
Tarek Fatah is a Robert J. and Abby B. Levine Fellow at the Middle East Forum, a founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress, and a columnist at the Toronto Sun.