The Continuing Symbol of Aafia Siddiqui and the “Muslim Women Prisoners” in Sunni Jihadi Narratives

On January 15, a UK citizen, Malik Faisal Akram, took four people hostage in the Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas. The gunman, who was ultimately shot and killed in a standoff with police, had previously been investigated in 2020 by British domestic intelligence, MI5, which reportedly concluded he was not a threat. Staff at the Islamic Center of Irving in Texas reported that Akram became angry when his request to spend the night at the center was refused. The center’s staff say they escorted him out and he left after this. U.S. law enforcement agencies are still investigating Akram’s activities and timeline for unaccounted days in the U.S. as well as possible connections in the UK. This includes how he was able to obtain the handgun used in his attack.

Akram’s motivations remain unclear and still being investigated. His reported linking of his attack to the release of Aafia Siddiqui, who is currently imprisoned serving an 86-year federal term in Texas after being convicted for trying to kill members of the U.S. military in Afghanistan, has drawn public attention. Federal prosecutors allege that she was a member of Al-Qaeda, charges her supporters deny. Her case has become an international cause célèbre among some, with groups formed to petition for her release, claiming her to be “innocent” and Pakistani government officials, including Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan, claiming occasionally that they will try to get her released from prison.

Siddiqui’s case and her status at the top of the list of “Muslim female prisoners” held in the jails of “the Crusaders” has remained since her arrest, trial, and imprisonment a regular feature of Sunni jihadi rhetoric and narrative construction. Both Al-Qaeda and Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL/IS) and affiliated and allied organizations have demanded her release and attempted to rally the support of Muslims by invoking her name and the names of other “Muslim prisoners.” This is particularly true of Muslim women prisoners, the “honor” of whom Sunni jihadis claim to be avenging when they carry out, or try to carry out, attacks. Siddiqui and other women prisoners (as a general rhetorical group) have and continue to be regularly named as motivations by a host of jihadi ideologues, leaders, and organizations including Al-Qaeda Central’s amir, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), Al-Shabab (Al-Shabaab) and its foreign fighters, and the Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Jihadi commanders have also proven adept at using the issue of real and reported/perceived abuses of Muslim women, including prisoners, as a tool to re-socialize their followers to accept higher and more egregious types and levels of violence.

This post highlights just a handful of jihadi media and rhetorical narratives about Siddiqui specifically.

In February 2010, Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad tried and failed to set off an VBIED in New York’s Times Square and was convicted and is currently serving to a life term without the possibility of parole. Shahzad admitted that he traveled to Waziristan, Pakistan in 2009 where he received a short bomb-making course to prepare him to carry out the VBIED attack, meeting also with TTP amir Hakimullah Mehsud and recording for TTP media a rather unenergetic “martyrdom” video and last will and testament. Among the causes he named were U.S. drone strikes and the imprisonment of Aafia Siddiqui.

Jihadis frequently have tried to shame Muslim men for not “heeding the call” of “our sister(s)” imprisoned by the “Crusaders.”
Ayman al-Zawahiri in a 2010 message about Siddiqui’s conviction.
The now late AQAP leader Nasr al-Ansi on Siddiqui.
In 2014, Islamic State claimed it would release American hostage James Foley, who it subsequently murdered, in exchange for Siddiqui’s release.
AQAP on Siddiqui’s case.
Siddiqui’s case highlighted in an Al-Qaeda e-magazine, Resurgence, in 2015.
The now defunct Jamiah Hafsa Internet discussion forum, once a hub for South Asian jihadis named after the women’s school in the Lal Masjid, invoking the famous story of the teenage Umayyad general Muhammad ibn Qasim, who is said to have led a military expedition into Sindh in response to calls for rescue from Muslim women imprisoned by a regional ruler there. Muhammad ibn Qasim is invoked as an example for Muslim men today to emulate by fighting to free imprisoned “chaste, pure” Muslim women from the prisons of the kuffar.
Mention of Aafia Siddiqui in the e-magazine of a shadowy East African jihadi group, Al-Muhajiroun, in 2015.

(Above): Lyrics from a particularly bad “rap” by the late Omar Hammami concerning Aafia Siddiqui and other Muslim women prisoners.

Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan e-magazine listing Siddiqui’s case as “proof” of the collusion of Pakistani officials with the “Crusaders.”

Islam & the Nation: Visual Culture of the Palestinian HAMAS: Part 1

A selection of posters produced by the Palestinian Islamist movement HAMAS including by its political branch, military wing (the Brigades of the Martyr ‘Izz al-Din al-Qassam), and media departments and including posters to commemorate “martyrs” and mark major events in HAMAS’ history. The group’s visual culture combines both religious and nationalist symbols and motifs.

HAMAS-affiliated university student Muhammad ‘Abd al-Rahim Raddad, killed by Fatah-affiliated students at Al-Najah University in Nablus in 2007 during the height of HAMAS-Fatah armed conflict.
Reem al-Riyashi, one of HAMAS’ handful of female “martyrdom-seekers” (istishhadiyyat) who carried out a suicide attack on January 14, 2004 targeting Israeli soldiers.
Sa’id Siyam, Palestinian interior minister in 2006 and a senior HAMAS official killed in an Israeli targeted assassination during the 2008-2009 Gaza War. His brother and son were also killed. The poster references the Ikhwan al-Muslimun, from which HAMAS was an offshoot of its Gazan branch, and HAMAS’ military wing, the Brigades of the Martyr ‘Izz al-Din al-Qassam.
Martyrdom anniversary poster for Shaykh Ahmad Yasin (k. March 2004) showing the HAMAS movement’s emblem and the land of Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories.

South Asian Sunni Jihadis Mark the 12th Anniversary of the Lal Masjid Siege

South Asian Sunni jihadis are marking the 12th anniversary of the July 3-11, 2007 siege of the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad by Pakistani government forces, which were responding to increasing violent activism by male and female students at the mosque’s two schools including its now famous women’s madrasa, Jami’a Hafsa. These groups include pro-Al-Qaeda and Islamic State militants as well as Pakistan and Kashmir-centered groups including the sectarian Lashkar-e Jhangvi.

The mosque’s deputy imam, ‘Abdul Rashid Ghazi, who was killed during the siege, became a central “martyr” figure in Sunni jihadi visual and literary cultures, particularly but not only to South Asian groups. Different factions of the Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and the Islamic Jihad Union have named military attacks or campaigns and special units after him or in memory of the scores of students and others killed during the siege by government forces. Ghazi and the other martyrs were eulogized by Al-Qaeda Central (AQC) and other major jihadi groups and figures, with Ayman al-Zawahiri and the late AQC leader Abu Yahya al-Libi placing him in the pantheon of the “mujahid ‘ulama” who, they said, are exemplary figures for the Umma.

After the August 2009 battle between HAMAS security forces and Jund Ansar Allah, a small independent Gazan AQ-aligned jihadi group at the time, Sunni jihadis compared the battle around the Ibn Taymiyya mosque in Rafah and the death of its imam, Abu al-Nur al-Maqdisi (‘Abd al-Latif Musa), with ‘Abdul Rashid Ghazi and Musharraf’s siege of the Lal Masjid. Abu’l Nur was reportedly the clerical and ‘spiritual leader’ of Jund Ansar Allah though there were reports that he did not wish to die in the day-long battle with HAMAS forces. Musharraf is compared to then-HAMAS government chief Isma’il Haniyeh.
Segment from Al-Qaeda Central’s eulogy film for the Lal Masjid and ‘Abdul Rashid Ghazi arguing that he and the others were killed by the Pakistani state because of their work to bring about a “true” Islamic state.
Segment from Al-Qaeda Central’s eulogy film for the Lal Masjid and ‘Abdul Rashid Ghazi. It includes an audio clip of Ghazi comparing the willingness of the Prophet Muhammad to undergo severe hardships with the unwillingness of many self-declared Muslims today from enduring any difficulties for their faith. The film’s narrator also links the Lal Masjid’s “commanding the right and forbidding the wrong” work to setting the stage for a new “caliphate.”
Ayman al-Zawahiri lists ‘Abdul Rashid Ghazi with the “exemplary mujahid ‘ulama” that also includes the late Shaykh ‘Abdullah ‘Azzam, Mullah Dadullah (Afghan Taliban), Abu ‘Umar al-Sayf (Chechnya), ‘Abdullah al-Rushud (AQAP), and the Saudi cleric Shaykh Hamud al-‘Uqla al-Shu’aybi.
Jihadi e-poster comparing the Lal Masjd siege and killing of scores of its students with the April 2018 Afghan government bombing of a madrasa in Kunduz that killed and wounded at least 107 civilians including dozens of children.

UPDATED JULY 11, 2019:

UPDATED JULY 13, 2019: