I first heard the name "Aafia Siddiqui" back in May 2004, when then-Attorney General John Ashcroft held a press conference with F.B.I. Director Robert Mueller identifying seven top Al-Qaeda members that the U.S. wanted in custody. At the time, fears of an impending terrorist attack during the run up to the 2004 presidential election were extremely high, and some of the suspects Ashcroft named, including Siddiqui, were thought to be involved in plots on the U.S. mainland.
Of the seven, Siddiqui (female, an MIT and Brandeis-educated Ph.D who had lived in America for several years), and Adam Gadahn (a half-Jewish, California-bred former metalhead) struck me the most, for obvious reasons. We all know what Gadahn--who's been conspicuously absent as of late--has gone on to "accomplish" in the name of Al Qaeda. But after Ashcroft's announcement, Siddiqui seemingly went underground, and I'd seen nary a mention of her until news broke last week that she had been arrested in Afghanistan. It was obvious right away that Siddiqui was a big catch. But she may prove an even more invaluable treasure trove of information than U.S. officials thought. Here's more, from CBN News:
[Siddiqui's] captors found on her information on chemical, biological and radioactive weapons. She was also carrying maps of New York City and its subway system, Times Square and the Statue of Liberty, as well as the nearby Plum Island Animal Disease Center, home to many lethal pathogens. "They found someone who is highly educated, who's very capable and who's willing to do the research," Kiriakou said. The FBI said Siddiqui also possessed a computer thumb-drive storage device loaded with emails to potential terrorists. They hope it's a roadmap to terror plots in the works. Siddiqui is now in custody in New York City, where friends and family have been protesting her innocence.
Two points about Siddiqui's arrest that stand out:
1) She's obviously an extremely intelligent woman, a neuroscientist educated at two of America's top universities. A mother of three and fluent in English, for a time she lived a seemingly quiet life in Boston with her husband, an anaesthesiologist. In short, when you think of Islamic terrorists, someone with Siddiqui's pedigree (and, frankly, gender) probably isn't the first to pop into your head. And that's what makes her so appealing to Al-Qaeda. She's Westernized and intimately familar with the American way of life: the perfect plant. Somoene with her credentials could easily obtain employment in a government or technological job that could present access to sensitive information. That's why Al Qaeda continues to recruit women and ethnic whites who can blend more easily in the West and may escape the close scrutiny that, say, a Saudi male might face (although even that is questionable).
2) Can we please put the "poverty causes terrorism" argument to rest? I've said it before, but it bears repeating. Most Islamic terrorists are well educated and middle class (see: the 9/11 hijackers and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was also U.S.-educated). Osama Bin Laden hails from a millionaire family, and Ayman al-Zawahiri, a doctor, comes from one of the most prominent families in Egypt. Several Hamas leaders are doctors, and we all know about the infamous "Doctor's Plot." in Britain last year. Point being: these are not dumb guys--or girls. Aafia Siddiqui's father is a doctor, and she herself is a doctor. Does hopeless poverty play a role for some of the foot soldiers in Pakistan's tribal regions or in Iraq? I'm sure it does. But at the end of the day, overwhelming evidence shows that it is the jihadist ideology, not a lack of money or opportunity, that motivates Islamic terrorists--particularly those in a leadership capacity.