Coinciding with the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, an increasing number of commentators and activists have embraced the questionable claim that the threat posed by Islamism for the last few decades has been supplanted by a far-right menace, or even that the Islamist threat was heavily exaggerated from the start.
It is amid such casuistry that Islamists and their foreign state sponsors have spotted an opportunity to plead the case for their most violent progeny. Radicals are reframing dangerous jihadists convicted in the two decades following 9/11 as innocent victims of an overzealous, "structurally racist" and paranoid American security state. The greatest victim of the security state's cruelty, Islamists claim, is Aafia Siddiqui — otherwise known as Lady Al-Qaeda.
Siddiqui earned the moniker 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 that 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 in SIDDIQUI's possession referred to the construction of "dirty bombs," and discussed various ways to attack "enemies," including by destroying reconnaissance drones, using underwater bombs, and deploying gliders.
In the lead-up to her trial, Siddiqui demanded that Jews be excluded from the jury, claiming the entire prosecution had been orchestrated by unnamed "Jews." She was sentenced in 2010 to 86 years in prison, after the jury found that "Siddiqui attempted to murder Americans serving in Afghanistan, as well as their Afghan colleagues."
Since her conviction, most major jihadist groups have demanded her release. In apparent cahoots with elements of the Janus-faced Pakistani regime, the Taliban offered to exchange Siddiqui for captured U.S. Army sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. The Islamic State also offered exchanges for prisoners, as did al-Qaeda.
Indeed, the Pakistani regime has long been a leading voice in the call to release Siddiqui, with tacit support from elements of the regime for jihadist groups such as the Taliban and Jaish-e-Mohammad, to both of which Siddiqui is believed to have been linked. Pakistani prime minister Yousaf Gaza Gilani once famously referred to Siddiqui as a "daughter of the nation."
Siddiqui was a beacon to Islamists everywhere. European jihadist-tied charitable convoys to Syria named their vehicles after her. In 2018, one jihadist even attempted an attack on the Federal Medical Center Carswell in Fort Worth in an attempt to free her.
A wide variety of lawful American Islamist groups and clerics – many of whom have grown increasingly close to Islamabad over the past decade – also now campaigns on Siddiqui's behalf, and in recent years these efforts have become particularly vigorous.
In 2016, campaigners established the Aafia Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization that lobbies for Siddiqui's release, as well as that of other convicted criminals and jihadists. It is a leading member organization of the Coalition for Civil Freedoms, an Islamist umbrella group established by Sami Al-Arian, a Palestinian Islamic Jihad operative jailed and then deported from the United States because of his efforts to support the terrorist group.
The Aafia Foundation has found plenty of other willing partners in Islamist circles, including the Diyanet Center in Maryland, the leading outpost of the Turkish regime's Directorate of Religious Affairs, and Dar ul-Hijrah, a hardline mosque in Virginia whose former imams have included the late al-Qaeda leader Anwar Al-Awlaki.
In addition, the Aafia Foundation enjoys thousands of dollars of funding from the Altalib Family Foundation, an Islamist 501(c) grant-making foundation controlled by Hisham Altalib, who helped lead a network of notorious Muslim Brotherhood-founded organizations known as the SAAR network, which was suspected by federal agents of serving as a key terror- financing network.
Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the Aafia Foundation has published multiple posts on social media praising Taliban rule and condemning "Western anti-Taliban propaganda," with one official recently writing:
I am very impressed with this Taliban leader [Anas Haqqani]. My prayer is that leaders like Anas Haqqani will be (and remain) the dominant decision and policy making force within the new government. May ALLAH bless this to be so. May ALLAH fortify and safeguard all of my committed Muslim brethren for the struggle ahead. Ameen.
Anas Haqqani is a leading member of the Haqqani Network, which the United States designated a terrorist organization in 2012.
Despite its overt support for terrorists, the Aafia Foundation's campaigns for Siddiqui apparently enjoy the support of widely praised modernist Salafi clerics such as Omar Suleiman, founder of the Yaqeen Institute. Suleiman is frequently praised as a progressivist-minded Muslim leader in mainstream media. Nancy Pelosi invited him to give the opening prayer in the U.S. House of Representatives in May 2019, and he was given a platform at Bernie Sanders's campaign rallies the following year.
This same putative progressivist recently recorded a video for the pro-Taliban Aafia Foundation, in which he stated: "It is of upmost importance we do not abandon our sister, Dr. Aafia" and encouraged American Muslims to attend the Aafia Foundation's "mobilizations" in support of her, due to take place in multiple major American cities throughout the fall. In fact, Suleiman is a star speaker at an upcoming Aafia Foundation-organized rally on September 18 in Fort Worth, alongside representatives from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA).
Various CAIR branches have previously campaigned in support of Siddiqui, some citing reports published by CAGE, an overtly pro-jihadist organization in Britain routinely denounced for its extremism by politicians from across the political spectrum.
Meanwhile, ICNA– one of the largest Islamic organizations in the United States and the U.S. branch of the South Asian Islamist movement Jamaat-e-Islami – has frequently highlighted Siddiqui's plight, referring to her as the "Muslim daughter who was betrayed by her own rulers." ICNA operates closely in collaboration with the Pakistani regime, and – as previously revealed in National Review – one of its subsidiaries has even partnered with designated Pakistani terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Aafia Siddiqui is hardly the theocrats' only cause. And given the current political climate, it is not particularly surprising that some of these American Islamist campaigns to free other convicted murderers are employing the Black Lives Matter motif to further their efforts.
The Turkish regime-linked U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations, for instance, recently claimed that convicted Islamist Jamil Al-Amin "laid the foundation for the Black Lives Matter movement." In fact, he murdered a black police officer.
Since truth and evidence are not on the campaigners' side, it seems difficult to imagine that such advocacy efforts could have much of an effect without a series of extremely poor decisions being made by the courts. But poor choices are often made amid a political climate as absurd and panicked as this one. And certainly, these Islamists think they have spotted an opportunity.
It is little wonder, then, that these same theocrats are working to support and share recent mainstream-media editorials arguing that we have exaggerated the Islamist threat at the cost of underplaying the "white supremacist" danger.
Such claims are clearly misleading, and not just because of the hundreds of thousands murdered by Islamists around the globe, the thousands of Western jihadists who rushed to join the Islamic State, the thousands more convicted in American and European courts before they were able to carry out their murderous plans, the continuing violence in South Asia, the Middle East, the Far- East, and Africa, the thousands of jihadists in the West on security services' watch lists, and the dozens of foiled terror plots in the U.S., France, Germany, Denmark, and Britain in just the past few years. In Europe alone in 2020, 29 jihadist attacks were prevented, with 254 arrested, and 15 were successful, killing 12.
Primarily, it is a question of magnitude. Far-right thugs are not backed by wealthy, foreign states with weapons of mass destruction who provide arms and financing; white supremacists do not operate vast billion- dollar criminal enterprises with cells in every continent; angry red-faced men wearing MAGA hats are not conducting proxy wars in Yemen, Syria, Mali, Libya, Kashmir, or dozens of other countries around the world; and right-wing extremists have not just routed hundreds of thousands of U.S.-trained military personnel in Afghanistan, acquiring thousands of American-made vehicles and aircraft in the process. As the French government will attest – given its latest string of extraordinary legislative measures to combat its crisis of radicalization in the suburbs of its big cities – the West faces severe and very present dangers.
In many ways, Aafia Siddqui represents the most dangerous of Islamists radicalized in the West. Educated, clever, and apparently able to inspire thousands around the world, she is an entirely different category of threat from the most virulent and well-armed of the far-right activists. The latter may have injured or even killed individuals; Aafia wanted to exterminate entire cities.
It simply must not be the case, more than 20 years after 9/11, that besuited Islamist operatives are successfully able to advocate on her behalf, fueled by liberal handwringing and the political dogmas of our age.
Sam Westrop is the director of Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum