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Saturday, August 2, 2008
Is Aafia Siddiqui Bagram’s Prisoner 650?
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
Before she reached the age of 30, Aafia Siddiqui achieved more than most Pakistani women could ever imagine.
Siddiqui, born in 1972, obtained a biology degree in the United States and later a doctorate in neurological science. She was married with three children and led a comfortable life.
But she disappeared in 2003 after returning to Pakistan and then added to the list of most dangerous al-Qaeda suspects compiled by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2004.
While the FBI is still “seeking information” about Siddiqui’s whereabouts, others claim she is the only female prisoner, ‘Prisoner 650’, being held at the U.S. detention centre at Bagram, 60 kilometers from Kabul.
British journalist Yvonne Ridley, who was captured by the Taliban and later converted to Islam, visited Pakistan recently and called on the international community to work for the release of Aafia whom she calls a “grey lady”.
Siddiqui was also included in a list published by Amnesty International in June 2007 as someone for whom there was “evidence of secret detention by the United States and whose fate and whereabouts remain unknown”.
Several former prisoners including British Muslim Moazzam Begg, who was held at Bagram before being transferred to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and later released, and some Arab detainees tell the story of prisoner number 650, the only woman at Bagram. Their accounts claim that the detained woman cries all the time and appears to have lost her sanity.
“We have only indications on which we can claim that she is no other person but Aafia Siddiqui,” retired Squadron leader and head of the Defense of Human Rights organization Khalid Khawaja told Adnkronos International (AKI).
“She left her home to go to the airport from her Karachi residence,” he told AKI. “It appears that she was picked up somewhere going to the airport. I tried to contact her mother but she refused to talk and later she also disappeared.”
“Siddiqui disappeared with her three children. Neither her or her children’s whereabouts have been known for the last five years.”
Khawaja works for the cause of missing people, including those detained by security agencies allegedly without charges or trial.
Khawaja himself was imprisoned for several months last year, including a period when the government said that it had no idea where he was.
He was a senior official of the Pakistani intelligence agency, ISI when they were fueling jihadi resistance movements against the Soviets in Afghanistan, and after being forced to retire he went to Afghanistan and fought along side with Osama bin Laden.
Khawaja said Pakistani authorities had confirmed that she was initially arrested by security agencies and then the Pakistan’s Interior Minister Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat said she was in Pakistan’s custody and would be released soon.
“Like many other prisoners, Aafia also seems to have been transferred to the FBI who would have taken her to Bagram Airbase jail for further interrogation,” Khalid Khawaja said.
AKI tried to reach Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat by telephone but received no response.
“The government does not want to discuss this matter because they have handed over dozens of people to the U.S. in violation of rules,” he said.
“That is why when the deposed Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Chaudhry tried to summon the intelligence chiefs and ask them to clarify their position concerning missing people, he was sacked.”
Pakistan’s Foreign Office has denied knowledge of the alleged detention of a Pakistani woman.
But the FBI’s website says it is seeking information about Siddiqui.
“Although the FBI has no information indicating this individual is connected to specific terrorist activities, the FBI would like to locate and question this individual,” it said.
In May 2004 the FBI named the woman among seven dangerous al-Qaeda suspects accused of plotting attacks.