Abstract: The January 15, 2022, hostage crisis at a Jewish synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, resurfaced a longstanding jihadi cause when the armed hostage-taker demanded the release of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist-turned-al-Qa`ida-operative currently serving an 86-year sentence in an American prison for attempting to murder U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Since Siddiqui’s 2010 conviction, a laundry list of violent Islamist groups around the world have attempted to broker prisoner exchanges to secure her release and appealed to their followers to fight on her behalf. Evaluating the Colleyville hostage crisis and similar plots in the United States with a nexus to Siddiqui’s case, this article traces why Siddiqui remains a major figure in the jihadi movement in the West.

On the morning of Saturday, January 15, 2022, at 10:00 AM local time, a man later identified as 44-year-old British national Malik Faisal Akram entered Congregation Beth Israel, a Jewish synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, and took four individuals hostage at gunpoint during a livestreaming of Shabbat morning services.1 Local police arrived at the scene at approximately 12:30 PM.2 During negotiations with police, Akram demanded the release of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist who was convicted in 2010 of attempting to murder U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan.3 Siddiqui is currently serving an 86-year sentence at a federal prison in nearby Fort Worth, Texas.4

Throughout the hostage crisis, Akram espoused anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, told hostages that he expected to be “going to Jannah [heaven]” after the conclusion of the standoff, and repeatedly demanded to talk to Siddiqui.5 At 5:00 PM, Akram released one hostage but continued to hold three others as negotiations with the FBI, local police, and his own family continued.6 One hostage—the congregation’s rabbi, Charlie Cytron-Walker—reported that Akram became “increasingly belligerent and threatening” in the later parts of the standoff.7 At around 9:00 PM, two FBI Hostage Rescue Teams (HRT), which had arrived on the scene earlier that day after being mobilized by the FBI in the early hours of the crisis, prepared to breach the synagogue.8 Shortly thereafter, at 9:33PM local time, Texas Governor Greg Abbott and local police sources confirmed that the HRT breached the synagogue and that the remaining hostages escaped unharmed.9 During the rescue, Akram was shot and killed by HRT officers.10 In total, the standoff lasted 11 hours.11

The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Taskforce is currently investigating the Colleyville hostage crisis as “a terrorism-related matter, in which the Jewish community was targeted.”12 In the weeks following the attack, law enforcement investigations in the United States and United Kingdom and reporting by international media have uncovered additional information about Akram’s background, motives, planning process, and travel from the United Kingdom.13 Prior to the attack, Akram’s longstanding financial problems, criminal record, and mental health issues were well-known to the local community in his hometown of Blackburn, as was his involvement in the conservative Islamist Tablighi Jamaat movement.14 According to media reports, he was a known figure to British counterterrorism authorities, having been the subject of a 2001 court exclusion order for making threatening comments about the 9/11 attacks, two referrals to the British counter-extremism program PREVENT in 2016 and 2019, and a 2020 counterterrorism investigation by MI5.15

Despite this, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that “the U.S. government did not have any derogatory information” about Akram when he arrived in the United States at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport on December 29, 2021.16 After his arrival, Akram reportedly traveled to Dallas around New Year’s Day, stayed in several homeless shelters in the area between January 1 and January 15, and purchased the Taurus Model G2C semiautomatic pistol used in the hostage-taking two days before the attack.a FBI and British law enforcement investigations into Akram’s pre-incident planning are ongoing. On January 26, 2022, the U.S. Department of Justice charged the individual who allegedly sold Akram the pistol he used in the hostage-taking with unlawful possession of a firearm.17 Throughout January 2022, police in the United Kingdom arrested six individuals in Manchester and Birmingham in connection with the Colleyville incident, including two of Akram’s teenage sons; all were eventually released without charge.b

While more details about Akram and the Colleyville siege are likely forthcoming, the initial information, confirmed by the FBI, that Akram demanded Siddiqui’s release connects his plot to dozens of attempts by jihadi groups and their supporters in the West toward freeing Siddiqui from U.S. federal prison.18 To this end, this article examines the enduring role of Siddiqui’s case for American jihadis, evaluating the Colleyville hostage crisis within the context of over a decade of jihadi efforts to secure her release from prison through various means. Beginning with a brief summary of Siddiqui’s case and role in the jihadi movement, the article then explains how freeing Siddiqui has become a cause célèbre for jihadis around the world, particularly in the West. It then evaluates the Colleyville siege alongside other American jihadi plots with a nexus to Siddiqui since her arrest, documenting instances of attack plots with inspirational ties to Siddiqui and attempts by Americans to secure her release through attacking prisons and taking hostages. Finally, the article offers a brief assessment of what the Colleyville hostage crisis and its linkages to Siddiqui might augur for future jihadi activity in the United States.

Who is Aafia Siddiqui?
Aafia Siddiqui is a singular figure within the history of jihadism, particularly in the West. Her case has understandably acquired a great deal of international interest and scrutiny, especially after her arrest, conviction, and imprisonment during the early 2010s. Without a doubt, the high-profile nature of her case and her relatively unique status as a woman with a reported operational role in al-Qa`ida contributed to her infamy, as does the enduring belief among her supporters that she was unjustly convicted.19 Nevertheless, decades after her story initially made headlines, today’s jihadi groups remain committed to ensuring her release from prison and continue to use her imprisonment as a propaganda device.

Born in Karachi, Pakistan, Siddiqui traveled to the United States on a student visa in 1990, eventually settling in the Boston area and enrolling in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.20 She later obtained a doctorate in cognitive neuroscience from Brandeis University in 2001.21 In June 2002, Siddiqui returned to Pakistan with her children after divorcing her first husband.22 The U.S. government and several other sources believe that she remarried in 2003 to Ammar al-Baluchi, an al-Qa`ida operative and a key lieutenant of his uncle Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.c Reportedly, according to intelligence assessments from interrogations of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, between 2002 and 2003, Siddiqui provided assistance to a Khalid Sheikh Mohammed-directed operation to smuggle explosives and al-Qa`ida operatives into the United States and United Kingdom for attacks.23 These reports further allege that Siddiqui traveled from Pakistan to the United States in January 2003 to apply for travel documents and open a post office box in Baltimore, Maryland, for Majid Khan, another al-Qa`ida operative who planned to conduct attacks in the United States.24 The plot collapsed when Khan was arrested in Pakistan.25

Two months after her reported January 2003 visit to the United States, the FBI issued a “seeking information” notice relating to an active counterterrorism investigation on Siddiqui.26 Days later, her parents reported that she had disappeared from their house in Karachi.27 Sources vary as to Siddiqui’s whereabouts between March 2003 and July 2008. The U.S. government claims that after the FBI issued its notice, Siddiqui fled with al-Baluchi and other al-Qa`ida operatives to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area, which at the time was an al-Qa`ida safe haven.28 In contrast, the government of Pakistan, her family, and many of her supporters claim that she was being held incommunicado by the U.S. military in various facilities, including at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.29 On May 26, 2004, the FBI named Aafia Siddiqui as one of its most wanted terrorists, making her the first woman wanted by the FBI for her role in al-Qa`ida.30 Former Central Intelligence Agency counterterrorism analyst Rolf Mowatt-Larssen claimed in a 2012 interview that Siddiqui was the only woman at the time on the CIA’s authorized “kill or capture” list.31

On July 17, 2008, Afghan National Police officers in the city of Ghazni approached a woman who was loitering outside of the provincial governor’s office, holding several bags.32 The officers became suspicious when the woman did not speak either of Afghanistan’s main languages, detained her, and conducted a search of her luggage.33 They found, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, “numerous documents describing the creation of explosives, as well as excerpts from the Anarchist’s Arsenal … descriptions of various landmarks in the United States, including in New York City,” as well as “substances that were sealed in bottles and glass jars.”d The next day, a team of U.S. federal law enforcement officers and military personnel arrived at the police station where the woman was being held. The DOJ claimed that the woman, later identified as Siddiqui, recovered an unsecured U.S. Army M-4 rifle from an Army Warrant Officer present at the scene and fired the rifle at the U.S. personnel.e The Warrant Officer returned fire with a sidearm, striking Siddiqui in the stomach, and subdued her.34 As a result of her injury, Siddiqui lost consciousness and was transferred to Forward Operating Base Orgun-E in southeastern Afghanistan to receive medical aid.35

On August 4, 2008, after receiving treatment for her gunshot wound, Siddiqui was extradited to the United States to face trial on several federal charges of attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon.36 After a drawn-out trial process, involving a series of medical and psychological evaluations and frequent endeavors by Siddiqui to frame the trial as a ‘Zionist’ conspiracy against her, on February 3, 2010, a jury found Aafia Siddiqui guilty on all charges.37 Later that year, she was sentenced to 86 years in federal prison.38 She has served the majority of her sentence in the Federal Medical Center (FMC) Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas, a federal prison mainly for women with special medical, mental health, or security management needs.39

How “Free Aafia Siddiqui” Became a Jihadi Cause Célèbre
As evidenced by the recent hostage-taking in Colleyville, jihadis remain fascinated by Siddiqui’s case more than a decade after her arrest and imprisonment. Arguably, no incarcerated jihadi alive today has elicited the same outpouring of support, propagandization, and effort by jihadi organizations and their acolytes to release them from prison. This specialized distinction for Siddiqui is in spite of the fact that dozens of major jihadi figures are currently or were previously imprisoned in the United States concurrently with Siddiqui. The list includes high-profile jihadi ideologues (Abu Hamza al-Masri, Omar Abdel Rahman, Abdullah al-Faisal, Ali al-Timimi, Ahmad Musa Jibril), operatives (Ramzi Yousef, Zacarias Moussaoui, Richard Reid, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev), and attack planners (Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, Ammar al-Baluchi).40

Indeed, Aafia Siddiqui is not the only incarcerated jihadi whose cause al-Qa`ida and other organizations have promoted in recent years, or the only subject of demands for the release of jihadi prisoners. Yet, despite their status and prominent roles within the jihadi movement, no other currently imprisoned jihadi has received the same frequency and intensity of attention to their cause as Siddiqui. In the 14 years since her capture, various jihadi groups, including several al-Qa`ida branches, the Islamic State, and the Taliban, have offered to trade captive Americans and other Westerners to the U.S. government in exchange for Siddiqui’s release and have used Siddiqui’s case as a focal point of their propaganda efforts.41 Perpetrators of major jihadi terrorist attacks, including the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan-linked suicide bomber who conducted the 2009 attack on Forward Operating Base Chapman that killed several CIA employees and contractors, claimed that revenge for Siddiqui’s capture was a motivation for their attacks.42

The promotion of Siddiqui’s cause within the jihadi movement by its leaders and in its propaganda has also had an indelible effect in the minds of its supporters across the world. By tracing a line between jihadi narratives and the Colleyville hostage-taker Malik Faisal Akram’s worldview, as expressed in a call that he made to his brother and other statements during the hostage negotiations, three prevalent themes emerge that help explain why Siddiqui’s case is continually and vitally important for the jihadi movement.f These themes also help connect the Colleyville hostage crisis to other jihadi plots with connections to Siddiqui.

The first theme centers on gendered narratives within the jihadi movement. Siddiqui is not the most high-value al-Qa`ida operative currently behind bars, but she is arguably the most high-value female al-Qa`ida operative currently behind bars.g Jihadi propaganda has exploited this fact to a great extent by making appeals to their male followers’ concept of masculinity, depicting Siddiqui as the paragon of “the chaste Muslim woman … who is undergoing persecution from the forces of Kufr [disbelief] and their apostate Muslim allies and clients.”43 Highlighting Siddiqui’s case specifically, scholar Nelly Lahoud has argued that jihadi propaganda has benefited immensely from her incarceration, as they are able to use her case “as a recruiting tool to highlight Muslim men’s lost honor and awaken feelings of chivalry in their psyche by calling on them to join jihad.”44

Among supporters of the global jihadi movement, this theme is resonant in a dual sense: It appeals to their position that the men of the movement are responsible for using force to defend oppressed women from persecution and, more importantly, shames men by depicting a woman who is wholly committed to the movement, encouraging those potentially “on the fence” into mobilization and violent action.45 These themes have been present in earlier jihadi messaging about Siddiqui from the time of her conviction, such as Ayman al-Zawahiri’s speech “Who Will Support Scientist Aafia Siddiqui?” in 2010 and “Prisoner 650,” a post from Anwar al-Awlaki about Siddiqui’s imprisonment.46 The jihadi movement sustains this narrative about women operatives and gender through a barrage of propaganda that simultaneously utilizes the plight of Siddiqui as both a bargaining chip and a call to action for supporters of the movement.47 In the final call he made to his family, Akram drew on these narratives by using Siddiqui’s case as an example of the jihadi responsibility to defend the honor of Muslim women against the perceived enemies of Islam: “They will never take another woman from a Muslim … they come into our [expletive] countries and rape our women and [expletive] our kids … I’m setting a precedent.”48

Second, unlike many of Siddiqui’s imprisoned jihadi contemporaries, calls for her release are not limited to jihadi circles but are also common among a wider swath of Islamist actors, as well as more mainstream Muslim movements and various parts of American society. Many of the non-jihadi actors that support Siddiqui’s release would be unlikely to call for the release of other imprisoned jihadis. Notably, the government of Pakistan has been a constant intercessor for her case and has made repeated diplomatic requests to the United States for her release.49 In the fall of 2021, just months before the attack in Colleyville, a coalition of organizations led by the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and Siddiqui’s family launched protests in several American cities under the banner of the “Free Dr. Aafia Movement.”50 Some secular labor and anti-war groups in the United States have also signed petitions to the U.S. government on her behalf.51 In the aftermath of the hostage-taking in Colleyville, each of these organizations released statements decrying the use of violence on behalf of Siddiqui’s cause.52 Nevertheless, the heightened exposure of this case and her imprisonment in the United States may be contributing in part to her notoriety among jihadis, particularly in the West. It is possible that Western jihadis may misinterpret non-jihadi statements about Siddiqui’s plight as further justification for violent action, even if non-jihadi calls for her release promote a non-violent response.53

This is particularly true when non-jihadis promote the idea that a broader Jewish or Zionist conspiracy is responsible for Siddiqui’s imprisonment or mistreatment. Rather than make legitimate legal arguments for her release, many individuals and groups involved with her case, including Siddiqui herself, prefer and propagate anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.54 During her trial, Siddiqui infamously attempted to fire her lawyers because she believed they were Jewish, demanded that all jurors be DNA-tested to prove they didn’t have “Zionist or Israeli” backgrounds, and wrote an anti-Semitic missive to then-President Obama from prison, urging him to “study the history of the Jews … they have always back-stabbed everyone.”55

The impact of these theories was on full display during the Colleyville crisis, in both the choice of target and the perpetrator’s statements. Echoing Siddiqui’s constant allegations of a broader Jewish conspiracy, Akram told his brother that “she’s got 84 years right, they [expletive] framed her … even if they don’t release Dr. Aafia, who gives a [expletive] … maybe they’ll have compassion for [expletive] Jews.”56 Rabbi Cytron-Walker told the media that Akram “literally thought Jews control the world … [that] we could get on the phone with the ‘Chief Rabbi of America’ and he could get what he needed.”57 Jihadis sometimes share these sentiments with more mainstream actors (despite disagreeing over the appropriate response), including some of Siddiqui’s most ardent non-jihadi supporters. For instance, a month before the Colleyville attack, a local office director for CAIR who has been a longstanding advocate for Siddiqui’s cause told an audience at a conference that “Zionist synagogues” and major Jewish organizations were “enemies,” part of a conspiracy responsible for Islamophobia, police brutality against African-Americans, and the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border.58

Finally, because of Siddiqui’s current custody situation and the perception that her cause is acceptable within a broader range of American society, jihadi organizations and their supporters may believe that operations to free Siddiqui—either through hostage-taking and exchange or through direct assaults on prisons—are more feasible. Despite the fact that the U.S. government has repeatedly turned down demands by jihadis to release Siddiqui in exchange for hostages, they continue to make the same request time after time.59 Each time a jihadi group does so, it draws attention to Siddiqui’s case both inside and outside the jihadi movement. Even though the U.S. government is extremely unlikely to accede to their demands, jihadis may view constantly mentioning Siddiqui’s case as a way to galvanize support within American society for her release.60 This process represents a rare opportunity for jihadis to elicit a wider degree of public sympathy in the United States for one of their causes.

Moreover, while planning attacks on prisons to release major leaders has been a core modus operandi for the jihadi movement for decades, freeing prisoners in U.S. custody poses additional difficulties.61 Most of the aforementioned major jihadi figures in U.S. prisons are currently housed in the United States Penitentiary-Administrative Maximum Facility (ADMAX) in Florence, Colorado, designed to be the most secure facility in the entire American prison system.62 While FMC Carswell, where Siddiqui is being held, also has an administrative high-security unit for women deemed as “special management concerns,” from a jihadi perspective an attack on FMC Carswell is at least within the realm of possibility, as evidenced by a previous plot against the institution detailed in the next section.h

While these factors—the role of gendered narratives, mainstream support, and perceived operational feasibility—influence jihadi devotions to Siddiqui’s cause across the world, they have understandably been most influential to supporters of the jihadi movement who target the United States or U.S. interests. If the hostage crisis in Colleyville is any indication, the jihadi goal of freeing Aafia Siddiqui is unlikely to abate any time soon. In fact, as the next section details, the hostage crisis was not the first jihadi plot in the United States in recent years with linkages to Siddiqui. Although the investigation into the Colleyville attack is ongoing, it is nevertheless pertinent to place the early findings surrounding the motivations and actions of the attacker within this broader context.

Police are pictured in front of the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue on January 16, 2022, in Colleyville, Texas, the day after Malik Faisal Akram held hostages there for more than 10 hours. (Brandon Wade/AP Photo)

Jihadi Plots Against the United States with a Nexus to Aafia Siddiqui Since 2010
Since her arrest and conviction in 2010, several jihadi plots in the United States or targeting U.S. citizens have had some connection to the case of Aafia Siddiqui. These plots have taken three forms: 1) plots involving perpetrators who drew ideological influence or succor from Siddiqui, 2) plotting to directly free Siddiqui by attacking her federal prison, and 3) plots involving perpetrators who take hostages and attempt to negotiate Siddiqui’s release. These will be examined in turn below.

Intriguingly, although Siddiqui was associated with al-Qa`ida prior to her imprisonment, some of the plots detailed in this section were conducted by Islamic State supporters. This would seemingly place Siddiqui among the category of al-Qa`ida ideological figures and causes that survived the bitter split between al-Qa`ida and the Islamic State and continue to be lionized by the latter group’s Western followers.63 Several explanations for this are possible, including the fact that Siddiqui was in prison during the entirety of the conflict in Syria and was therefore unable to publicly opine on the split between the two groups.i In addition, the Islamic State relies on many of the same tropes described in the previous section, including the utilization of female operatives as propaganda to shame men and an emphasis on prisoners and prison breaks, to an equal if not greater extent as its competitors in the jihadi movement.64 These factors help explain why Siddiqui’s celebrity within the jihadi movement in the West has survived changing tides in its organizational makeup.

Inspirational Linkages
Even from behind bars, Aafia Siddiqui continues to ideologically inspire newer participants in the jihadi movement around the world, including in the United States. Her role may be especially important for female jihadis who are seeking to create space for active participation in attack planning despite ideological restrictions to the contrary.65 The scholar Devorah Margolin has noted that in recent years, female followers of the Islamic State who commit and plan attacks outside of the group’s previously held territories in Syria and Iraq have forced the group into issuing mixed messages, wherein it “has praised or spoken ambivalently about women who carried out operations … despite not wanting women to actively take up arms.”66 Without a clear signal from the group’s ideological authorities, women in the West interested in conducting jihadi attacks turned to pertinent, previous examples for inspiration. The Islamic State callouts to prominent women operatives in its English-language propaganda cemented Siddiqui’s, among others’, legacy for a new generation of jihadi women attack planners.j

As early as 2006, a New York woman named Asia Siddiqui (no known relation to Aafia Siddiqui) began contacting several jihadi prisoners in the United States, as well as other Americans associated with the jihadi movement.67 She corresponded online with Samir Khan, who at the time managed an English-language jihadi blog called Jihad Recollections before he moved to Yemen in 2009 to join al-Qa`ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).68 Between 2010 and 2014, Asia Siddiqui sent letters to three convicted terrorists in U.S. federal prisons: Mohamed Mohamud, convicted in 2013 of attempting to detonate a bomb at a Christmas tree lighting in Portland, Oregon; Tarek Mehanna, found guilty in 2011 of attempting to travel to Yemen to join AQAP and translating propaganda for the group; and, according to a court document released during Asia Siddiqui’s 2019 trial, Aafia Siddiqui.69 Some evidence suggests that Asia Siddiqui attended Aafia Siddiqui’s sentencing hearing in 2010 as a “correspondent” for the Justice for Aafia Coalition.70 An article on the group’s website that covers the hearing is written by a woman using the same pseudonym that Asia Siddiqui used in her letters to various jihadi prisoners, and the writer notes that “a stranger saw my name and smiled, saying how similar it was to Aafia Siddiqui.”71

After the FBI conducted a 2014 interview with Asia Siddiqui to ask her about her correspondence with jihadis, an investigation found that she had been meeting with Noelle Velentzas, another jihadi sympathizer in New York City, to discuss conducting a bombing on behalf of the Islamic State.72 After reviewing the approaches used in similar plots—including jihadi (the 1993 World Trade Center bombing) and non-jihadi attacks (the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing)—the pair resolved to construct an explosive device for use in an attack on law enforcement.73 The Department of Justice noted that Asia Siddiqui and Velentzas “taught each other chemistry and electrical skills related to creating explosives and building detonating devices, conducted research on how to make plastic explosives and how to build a car bomb, and shopped for and acquired materials to be used in an explosive device.”74 The pair were arrested in April 2015 and pleaded guilty to federal explosives charges in 2019.75 In 2021, Asia Siddiqui was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison; her co-conspirator Velentzas received a 16-and-a-half year sentence.76

The contents of Asia Siddiqui’s earlier correspondence with Aafia Siddiqui have not been released to the public, so it is unclear what specific impact their interaction might have had on Asia Siddiqui’s later plot. Nevertheless, shades of Aafia Siddiqui’s influence appear throughout the evidence from Asia Siddiqui’s and Velentzas’ criminal cases. The focus of the two women in 2014 and 2015 on “learning science,” including by acquiring chemistry books, bombmaking instructional material, and precursor chemicals, parallels the materials found on Aafia Siddiqui when she was arrested in Afghanistan in 2008.77 While these inventories would be common for any jihadi attack planner who is interested in conducting attacks using explosives, examples of women involved in this type of planning are exceptionally rare.78 In that regard, the inspirational linkage becomes clearer. Asia Siddiqui and Noelle Velentzas were in many ways following a path within the American jihadi movement that may not have been possible for women if not for Aafia Siddiqui.79

Prison Break Plotting
Assaulting prisons to free captive jihadis is a tried-and-true method for jihadi organizations.80 By attacking prisons, jihadi groups can restore their operational capacity through force regeneration in freeing high-value prisoners and, in the process, garner major propaganda victories.81 For the most part, jihadi prison assaults have targeted facilities in the developing world where prisons’ security mechanisms and infrastructure have been easier to exploit.82 As a result, jihadis generally have preferred attempting to secure the release of high-profile prisoners in the United States and Western Europe through hostage trading rather than planning risky and potentially costly direct attacks against prisons.83 Nevertheless, at least one exception to this norm exists: a 2014 plot by then-al-Qa`ida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra to send American operatives from Syria to Texas to attack FMC Carswell and free Aafia Siddiqui from prison.

On April 18, 2014, a 23-year-old Columbus, Ohio, man named Abdirahman Sheik Mohamud traveled from Ohio to Syria to fight for Jabhat al-Nusra.84 His brother Abdifatah Aden had already joined the group, and assisted Mohamud in coordinating travel arrangements, finances, and logistics.85 During a two-month training stint with Jabhat al-Nusra, Mohamud received instructions on how to use various weapons and told his commanders that he intended to stay in Syria to continue fighting and die a martyr.86 However, he was tasked to an al-Nusra attack planner who, seeking to take advantage of Mohamud’s U.S. citizenship, instructed him to return to the United States and plan a terrorist attack there instead.87

Mohamud later told investigators that his handlers gave him the simple objective of freeing Aafia Siddiqui from prison.88 To achieve this objective, Mohamud and an unnamed senior operative in Jabhat al-Nusra devised two attack plans: one in which Mohamud would directly attack the prison where Siddiqui was incarcerated and another in which Mohamud would attack a military, law enforcement, or government facility.89 While he was still in Syria, Mohamud conducted research for the first plot, including internet searches for the Federal Bureau of Prisons website, the prison in which Aafia Siddiqui was being held, and a Google Maps search for FMC Carswell.90

After Mohamud’s brother was killed in Syria in early June 2014, Mohamud returned to the United States.91 After arriving in Columbus, he attempted to recruit several of his friends to help carry out the plot, and remained in contact with his Jabhat al-Nusra handlers.92 In November 2014, Mohamud purchased a plane ticket from Columbus to Dallas, Texas, so that he could conduct reconnaissance for the prison plot.93 However, Mohamud did not board the flight.94 In February 2015, he was arrested during a traffic stop when he attempted to present his dead brother’s driver’s license as his own.95 He was subsequently charged in federal court with provision of material support to terrorism and making false statements to the FBI.96 Mohamud pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 22 years in prison in 2018.97

The Jabhat al-Nusra-coordinated plot to attack FMC Carswell was only in its nascent stage when Mohamud shifted his focus to another option, which will be detailed in the next subsection. In its entirety, the publicly available information about the FMC Carswell plot does not suggest which types of methods the group was planning to use in a prison assault. Nevertheless, it was the first occasion in which jihadi groups entertained the idea of directly attacking a federal prison in the United States and devoted an operative to conduct the plot.98 The fact that the objective of this effort was freeing Aafia Siddiqui is a major indication of her status within jihadi circles.

Hostage Negotiations
As previously discussed, various jihadi groups have attempted to offer captive Americans with the U.S. government in exchange for Aafia Siddiqui. Most of the time, these efforts began after jihadis captured U.S. citizens overseas, although al-Qa`ida-linked groups have also attempted to trade captured British, Czech, and Swiss citizens for Siddiqui.99 In 2010, days after Siddiqui’s conviction, the Taliban threatened to execute U.S. Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl if Siddiqui was not immediately released.100 After American aid worker Warren Weinstein was kidnapped in Lahore, Pakistan, in 2011, Ayman al-Zawahiri demanded Siddiqui’s release in exchange for Weinstein’s.101 In 2013, a North African al-Qa`ida faction led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar took hostages, including Americans, at a gas field in In Amenas, Algeria.102 The kidnappers included in their demands a call on the U.S. government to free Aafia Siddiqui and Omar Abdel Rahman, also known as the “Blind Sheikh.”103 Former AQAP head Qasim al-Raymi made the same demands to the U.S. government after kidnapping American journalist Luke Somers in Yemen in September 2013.104

On at least three occasions, an Islamic State cell of English-speakers known colloquially as “the Beatles” made its own prisoner exchange offers for Siddiqui.k When American aid worker Kayla Mueller was kidnapped in Aleppo, Syria, in 2013 by the group now referred to as the Islamic State, the group attempted to negotiate with the U.S. government to secure Siddiqui’s release.105 In a 2013 proof-of-life video recorded and published by the group, Mueller stated that “those detaining me are demanding an exchange of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui’s release for my release. If this is not achievable, they are demanding 5 million euros to ensure my release.”106 Although the Mueller family reportedly encouraged the Obama administration to approve the trade, it never came to fruition, and Mueller was murdered in February 2015.107 In August 2014, “the Beatles” sent captured American journalist James Foley’s family an email, days before he was eventually murdered.108 Claiming that the U.S. government refused to negotiate, the message from the Islamic State asserted that “we have also offered prisoner exchanges to free the Muslims currently in your detention like our sister Dr Afia [sic] Sidiqqi [sic], however you proved very quickly to us that this is NOT what you are interested in.”109 Two weeks after Foley’s murder, the Islamic State again offered the same terms to the U.S. government for the release of Steven Sotloff, another American journalist captured by the organization in 2013.110 The U.S. government again rejected this deal, and Sotloff was murdered in September 2014.111

While the Colleyville hostage-taker Malik Faisal Akram’s stated motivations, target, and broader beliefs suggest a jihadi outlook, it is currently unclear whether he associated with any particular jihadi group.112 Nevertheless, the goals, objectives, and method of the hostage-taking in Colleyville in many ways mimic the constant efforts by overseas jihadi groups to negotiate prisoner trades for Siddiqui.113 Akram was the first individual to carry out a hostage-taking in the United States with Siddiqui’s release as an objective, but the crisis in Colleyville was not the first attempt by American jihadis to plan this type of operation.

After Abdirahman Sheik Mohamud pleaded guilty to providing material support to Jabhat al-Nusra in late 2017, he attained a proffer agreement with the U.S. government to discuss other plans that he and a network of associates allegedly made to conduct attacks in the United States after he returned from Syria in 2014.114 In place of the idea to attack FMC Carswell directly, Mohamud told investigators that he and several friends, whom he met playing basketball at a local YMCA in Columbus, planned to “save Aafia Siddiqui by grabbing and kidnapping U.S. soldiers and taking them as hostages.”l The group allegedly raised money to purchase handguns, military-style clothing, and ski masks.115 Mohamud claimed that they planned on surveilling several military installations in Texas and Ohio to select a site for the hostage-taking.116

As Mohamud had just returned from Syria at the time that the cell formed, he became its leader, with several other individuals reportedly swearing an oath of allegiance to him.117 An individual that Mohamud reportedly attempted to recruit later told the FBI that Mohamud believed he was following orders from his handlers in al-Nusra to “go back [to the United States] and do something there … [which] is why he returned to the U.S. … his plan was to lay low and get with a group of guys.”118 Mohamud was arrested before the group was able to carry out any hostage-taking. As recently unsealed search warrants revealed, several members of his reported cell were subject to FBI investigations, although to date, none have been arrested or charged.119

The attack plots involving Abdirahman Sheik Mohamud were novel in two ways. First, they were the first and only examples of attack planning in the United States by a returned jihadi traveler who participated in the conflict in Syria.120 In addition, they were the first plots by jihadis in the United States aiming to take hostages on U.S. soil and attempt to barter their release for Aafia Siddiqui’s. Although Mohamud and his alleged co-conspirators were unsuccessful in their hostage-taking plans, this type and method of attack planning would set a precedent for what would unfold at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville nearly seven years later.

Using the evidence available in the public record to date, the Colleyville hostage crisis contains two predominant, interlinked features of jihadi activity in the United States in recent years. The incident jump-started the second decade in which jihadis in the United States have attempted to conduct attacks with the goal of freeing Aafia Siddiqui from prison. Her continued celebrity within the movement is persistent because the factors that initially skyrocketed her case as a cause célèbre for jihadis have grown in importance. The jihadi movement, particularly in the West, has had a particularly intense focus on the plight of Western women jihadis behind bars during the past several years, whether they are imprisoned in FMC Carswell or in the al-Hol and al-Roj camps in Syria.121 Siddiqui is the prototype for the “aseerat,” the female prisoners of the jihadi movement who are constantly the subject of propaganda pushes, crowdfunding campaigns, and jihadi operational activities.122 More importantly, Siddiqui’s case represents a rare opportunity for jihadis to share a common cause with a wider, more mainstream group of actors in the Muslim world and beyond who share convictions that Siddiqui’s jailing is unjustified.

Moreover, Akram’s belief that storming a synagogue and taking its congregants hostage was the best method to secure Siddiqui’s release is not coincidental. The theory of change expressed through the attack—that the same Jewish conspiracy that “framed” Siddiqui held the levers of power necessary to release her—is reflective not only of Siddiqui’s own views, but also mirrors a broader trend in jihadi terrorism in the West. To attract new recruits and continue to mobilize new generations of Westerners, the jihadi movement remains highly dependent on anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.123 Anti-Semitism has long been the ideological glue connecting violent jihadi thought to its counterparts in non-violent Islamist movements, and to other violent extremist groups, including on the far-right.124 Therefore, these forms of conspiracy theories are likely to be a central mobilizing theme, inspiring jihadi and other violent extremist attacks in the United States for years to come.     CTC

Bennett Clifford is a Senior Research Fellow at the Program on Extremism at George Washington University.

© 2022 Bennett Clifford

Substantive Notes
[a] A complete accounting of Akram’s whereabouts, especially where he stayed each night during the two weeks he spent in the Dallas area before the attack, is currently not publicly available. Jack Douglas, Matt Zapotosky, and Marc Fisher, “Angry Outbursts and Cool Determination: Inside the Synagogue Attacker’s 18-Day Journey to Terror,” Washington Post, January 22, 2022; “Criminal Complaint,” United States of America v. Henry Dwight Williams, United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, January 25, 2022.

[b] This figure comprises two teenagers arrested in south Manchester, believed to be Akram’s sons, on January 17, 2022; two men arrested in Birmingham and Manchester on January 20, 2022; and two men arrested in Manchester on January 26, 2022. “Texas Synagogue Siege: Teens Held in UK as Briton Named as Hostage-Taker,” BBC, January 17, 2022; Jessica Murray, “Police Arrest Two Men in UK over Texas Synagogue Attack,” Guardian, January 20, 2022; “Texas Synagogue Siege: Two Men Arrested in Manchester,” BBC, January 26, 2022; Sean Gleaves, “Manchester Man Released Following Arrest in Texas Synagogue Siege Investigation,” Lancashire Post, January 31, 2022.

[c] The Siddiqui family denies that this marriage took place, contra U.S. and Pakistani intelligence. Notably, Ammar al-Baluchi is also the cousin of Ramzi Yousef, convicted for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. “Detainee Biographies,” Office of the Director of National Intelligence, September 6, 2006.

[d] The items that the Afghan police found during the search are detailed in full in the U.S. Attorneys’ sentencing memorandum from Siddiqui’s trial. They include personal effects, approximately two pounds of the poison sodium cyanide, Siddiqui’s handwritten documents describing weapons construction, anti-drone measures, and mass-casualty attacks (including the construction of radioactive “dirty bombs”), printed instructional materials in English and Urdu on constructing explosives, and a thumbdrive with electronic documents on conducting chemical weapons. Apart from the sodium cyanide found on her person, the precise makeup of the “substances sealed in bottles and glass jars” was not described in court documents, but the U.S. Attorney noted that several of the chemicals “can be used in explosives.” “Aafia Siddiqui Arrested for Attempting to Kill United States Officers in Afghanistan,” U.S. Department of Justice, August 4, 2008; “Government’s Sentencing Submission,” United States of America v. Aafia Siddiqui, United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, July 29, 2010.

[e] Many of Siddiqui’s supporters still dispute the ensuing version of these events, but a federal jury found Siddiqui guilty of these allegations beyond a reasonable doubt.

[f] This article frequently cites a phone call between Akram and his brother that took place during the commission of the siege. All available evidence shows that Akram’s brother attempted to end the siege, urging Akram to “release the hostages, serve time in prison, and return home to his family.” “Exclusive: Texas Synagogue Terrorist Ranted about ‘F***ing Jews’ in Last Call to Family Made during Siege,” Jewish Chronicle, January 19, 2022; Douglas, Zapotosky, and Fisher.

[g] A case could be made that prior to 2015, the failed suicide bomber Sajida al-Rishawi may have rivaled Siddiqui for this dubious honor. After al-Rishawi’s explosive belt failed to detonate during the November 9, 2005, coordinated bombings of several hotels in Amman, Jordan, by al-Qa`ida in Iraq, she was arrested and sentenced to death by a Jordanian court. During her 10 years in prison, al-Rishawi also elicited some notable interest from the jihadi movement, most notably in January 2015 when the Islamic State offered to trade imprisoned Royal Jordanian Air Force pilot Muath al-Kasasbeh and Japanese journalist Kenji Goto to secure al-Rishawi’s release. The Kingdom of Jordan agreed to the terms of swapping al-Kasasbeh for al-Rishawi, but when the Islamic State failed to provide verifiable proof of life for al-Kasasbeh, the deal collapsed. On February 4, 2015, hours after the Islamic State released a video of its executioners burning al-Kasasbeh alive, Jordan executed al-Rishawi by hanging. Ray Sanchez, “Who was Sajida al-Rishawi? And why did ISIS care about her?” CNN, February 4, 2015.

[h] It is unclear whether Aafia Siddiqui is housed in this administrative high-security unit, which holds inmates with “mental illness, with histories of escape, chronic behavioral problems, repeated incidents of assaultive or predatory behavior, or other special management concerns.” “Review of the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Use of Restrictive Housing for Inmates with Mental Illness,” Office of the Inspector General, U.S. Department of Justice, July 2017.

[i] This is a similar argument to those that compare the impact of English-speaking al-Qa`ida ideologues who were either deceased or in prison at the time of the rise of the Islamic State (e.g., Abu Hamza al-Masri or Anwar al-Awlaki) to those who were not in prison and free to continue their proselytizing (e.g., Ahmad Musa Jibril or Abdullah al-Faisal.) Seamus Hughes, Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens, and Bennett Clifford, “The Ideologues,” in Homegrown: ISIS in America (London: I.B. Tauris, 2020); Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens, Incitement: Anwar al-Awlaki’s Western Jihad (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2020); Joseph A. Carter, Shiraz Maher, and Peter Neumann, “#Greenbirds: Measuring Importance and Influence in Syrian Foreign Fighter Networks,” International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, 2014.

[j] Other women operatives who appeared in the Islamic State’s English-language propaganda include Tashfeen Malik, one of the perpetrators of the 2015 San Bernardino shooting; Sajida ar-Rishawi, who was arrested and later executed in Jordan for attempting to conduct a suicide bombing for al-Qa`ida in Iraq in Amman in 2005; and three women who conducted a suicide bombing at a police station in Kenya in 2016. Devorah Margolin, “The Changing Roles of Women in Violent Islamist Groups,” in Perspectives on the Future of Women, Gender, and Violent Extremism (Washington, D.C.: George Washington University, Program on Extremism, 2019).

[k] In 2012, a search warrant executed in the United Kingdom on the laptop of Alexanda Kotey, one member of “the Beatles,” found that he conducted searches for “Justice for Afia [sic] Siddiqui” and had corresponded through email with the Justice for Aafia Coalition prior to leaving the United Kingdom for Syria. “Statement of Facts,” United States of America v. Alexanda Amon Kotey, United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, September 2, 2021.

[l] According to the U.S. government, Mohamud remained in contact with the al-Nusra attack planners he was assigned to in Syria after he returned to the United States. While Mohamud’s handlers instructed him to secure Siddiqui’s release from prison, there is no evidence presented in these allegations that claims that Mohamud and the handler discussed this specific plot. “Affidavit in Support of Application for a Search Warrant,” United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, March 17, 2015.

[1] Melina Delkic, “‘Grateful to Be Alive’: What We Know About the Synagogue Hostage Rescue,” New York Times, January 16, 2022.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ruth Graham, “F.B.I. Director Calls Texas Synagogue Attack an Act of Antisemitism,” New York Times, January 20, 2022; Dennis Romero and Ken Dilanian, “Who Is Aafia Siddiqui, the Federal Prisoner at the Center of the Texas Hostage Incident?” NBC News, January 17, 2022.

[4] Graham; Romero and Dilanian.

[5] Giulia Heyward, Azi Paybarah, and Eileen Sullivan, “11 Hours of Fear, Negotiation and Finally, Relief,” New York Times, January 17, 2022.

[6] Delkic.

[7] Jake Bleiberg and Eric Tucker, “Texas Rabbi: Captor Grew ‘Belligerent’ Late in Standoff,” Associated Press, January 16, 2022.

[8] Ryan Osborne, Pete Freedman, and Alex Cruz, “Here’s Everything We Know about the Colleyville Synagogue Hostage Situation,” WFAA, January 16, 2022; Ruth Graham and Adam Goldman, “As F.B.I. Breached Texas Synagogue, Hostages Were Dashing for Exit,” New York Times, January 21, 2022.

[9] Greg Abbott, “Prayers answered. All hostages are out alive and safe,” Twitter, January 15, 2022.

[10] Graham and Goldman.

[11] Heyward, Paybarah, and Sullivan.

[12] Graham.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Jonathan Sacerdoti, “Texas Gunman Was ‘Referred Twice’ to the Prevent Anti-Extremism Programme,” Jewish Chronicle, January 21, 2022.

[15] Ibid.; Fiona Hamilton, Duncan Gardham, Neil Johnston, Kieran Southern, and Haroon Janjua, “Texas Synagogue Siege Terrorist Malik Faisal Akram Was Referred to Prevent,” Times, January 20, 2022; Megan Specia and Eileen Sullivan, “Texas Hostage Taker Was Known to British Intelligence,” New York Times, January 18, 2022.

[16] “Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki and Infrastructure Implementation Coordinator Mitch Landrieu, January 18, 2022,” White House, January 18, 2022.

[17] “Man Who Sold Pistol Used in Synagogue Hostage Crisis Federally Charged,” U.S. Department of Justice, January 26, 2022.

[18] Romero and Dilanian; Michael Kugelman, “How Aafia Siddiqui Became a Radical Cause Célèbre,” Foreign Policy, January 18, 2022; Annabelle Timsit, Souad Mekhennet, and Terrence McCoy, “Who Is Aafia Siddiqui? Texas Synagogue Hostage-Taker Allegedly Sought Release of ‘Lady al-Qaeda,’” Washington Post, January 16, 2022; Seth Frantzman, “The Long Jihadist-Extremist Quest to Free Aafia Siddiqui,” Jerusalem Post, January 16, 2022.

[19] Peter Bergen, “Opinion: How Aafia Siddiqui Became an Icon for Terrorists,” CNN, January 16, 2022.

[20] Deborah Scroggins, “The Most Wanted Woman in the World,” Vogue, March 2005; Katherine Ozment, “Who’s Afraid of Aafia Siddiqui?” Boston Magazine, October 2004.

[21] Scroggins, “The Most Wanted Woman in the World;” Ozment.

[22] Scroggins, “The Most Wanted Woman in the World;” Ozment.

[23] These allegations are covered more broadly in Scroggins, “The Most Wanted Woman in the World” as well as in Declan Walsh, “Guantánamo Files Paint Aafia Siddiqui as Top Al-Qaida Operative,” Guardian, April 26, 2011.

[24] Walsh, “Guantánamo Files Paint Aafia Siddiqui as Top Al-Qaida Operative.”

[25] Ibid.

[26] “Seeking Information: Aafia Siddiqui,” Federal Bureau of Investigation, March 18, 2003.

[27] Declan Walsh, “The Mystery of Dr Aafia Siddiqui,” Guardian, November 24, 2009.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.

[30] “Transcript: Ashcroft, Mueller News Conference, May 26, 2004,” CNN, May 26, 2004; “Al-Qaeda Suspects,” CBS News, May 26, 2004.

[31] Deborah Scroggins, Wanted Women: Faith, Lies, and the War on Terror: The Lives of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Aafia Siddiqui (New York: Harper Collins, 2012), p. 245.

[32] Walsh, “The Mystery of Dr Aafia Siddiqui.”

[33] “Government’s Sentencing Submission,” United States of America v. Aafia Siddiqui, United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, July 29, 2010.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid.

[37] “Aafia Siddiqui Found Guilty in Manhattan Federal Court of Attempting to Murder U.S. Nationals in Afghanistan and Six Additional Charges,” U.S. Department of Justice, February 3, 2010.

[38] “Aafia Siddiqui Sentenced in Manhattan Federal Court to 86 Years for Attempting to Murder U.S. Nationals in Afghanistan and Six Additional Crimes,” FBI, September 23, 2010.

[39] Romero and Dilanian; “FMC Carswell,” Federal Bureau of Prisons, accessed January 21, 2022.

[40] Hannah Fairfield and Tim Wallace, “The Terrorists in U.S. Prisons,” New York Times, April 7, 2016; Jerome Bjelopera, “Terror Inmates: Countering Violent Extremism in Prison and Beyond,” Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, U.S. House of Representatives, October 28, 2015; Bennett Clifford, “Radicalization in Custody: Towards Data-Driven Terrorism Prevention in the United States Federal Correctional System,” Policy Paper, George Washington University, Program on Extremism, November 2018.

[41] Shane Harris, “Lady al Qaeda: The World’s Most Wanted Woman,” Foreign Policy, August 26, 2014; Christopher Anzalone, “Women and Jihadism: Between the Battlefield and the Home-Front,” Agenda 30:3 (2016): pp. 18-24.

[42] Ibid.; Megan Chuchmach, Nick Schifrin, and Luis Martinez, “Martyrdom Video from CIA Base Bomber Links Deadly Attack to Pakistani Taliban,” ABC News, January 9, 2010.

[43] Anzalone.

[44] Nelly Lahoud, “The Neglected Sex: The Jihadis’ Exclusion of Women From Jihad,” Terrorism and Political Violence 26:5 (2014): pp. 780-802.

[45] Ibid.; Gaetano Joe Ilardi, “Violent Islamism and Shame-Inducing Narratives,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism (2021); Katharina Von Knop, “The Female Jihad: Al Qaeda’s Women,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 30:5 (2007): pp. 397-414; Charlie Winter and Devorah Margolin, “The Mujahidat Dilemma: Female Combatants and the Islamic State,” CTC Sentinel 10:7 (2017); Kiriloi Ingram, “The Islamic State’s Manipulation of Gender in Their Online Information Operations,” VOX – Pol (blog), March 22, 2018; “Women in Islamic State Propaganda: Roles and Incentives,” Europol, 2019.

[46] Ayman al-Zawahiri, “Who Will Support Scientist Aafia Siddiqui,” As-Sahab Media Foundation, November 4, 2010; Anwar al-Awlaki, “Prisoner 650,” 2008.

[47] Anzalone; Lahoud.

[48] “Exclusive: Texas Synagogue Terrorist Ranted about ‘F***ing Jews’ in Last Call to Family Made during Siege,” Jewish Chronicle, January 19, 2022.

[49] “In Pakistan, ‘Lady Al-Qaida’ Is A Cause Celebre,” NPR Morning Edition, March 1, 2010; Dawood Ghazanavi, “The US Can Do More to Compensate for Pakistan’s Sacrifices during the War on Terror: The Plight of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui,” Atlantic Council, May 6, 2020.

[50] “About the Free Dr. Aafia Movement,” Why Aafia Freedom Campaign, accessed January 21, 2022; “CAIR-DFW: Solidarity Rally Planned to Protest 48-Days Solitary Confinement of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui After Attack,” Council on American-Islamic Relations, September 17, 2021; “In Pursuit of Freedom for Dr. Aafia Siddiqui: EPIC & CAIR-TX,” CAIR-DFW, December 16, 2021; El-Hajj Mauri’ Saalakhan, “Are We At A Turning Point In The Campaign For Dr. Aafia Siddiqui?” MuslimMatters.Org, December 18, 2021.

[51] For instance, see “Resolution: We Demand the Immediate Release of Aafia Siddiqui and Repatriation to Pakistan,” Boston School Bus Drivers, October 25, 2021; “10/20 Wed 3 PM NYC Rally in Support of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui,” International Action Center, October 19, 2021; Sara Flounders, “Free U.S. Political Prisoner Dr. Aafia Siddiqui!” Workers World, October 21, 2021.

[52] For instance, see “Breaking: CAIR Condemns Hostage-Taking at Texas Synagogue, Working with Local Community Leaders to Learn More and Provide Assistance,” Council on American-Islamic Relations, January 15, 2022.

[53] Matthew Levitt, “Neo-Nazis Aren’t the Only Ones Targeting Jews,” NBC News, January 19, 2022.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Walsh, “The mystery of Dr Aafia Siddiqui;” Scroggins, Wanted Women, p. 442.

[56] “Exclusive: Texas Synagogue Terrorist Ranted about ‘F***ing Jews’ in Last Call to Family Made during Siege.”

[57] Arno Rosenfeld, “Texas Rabbi: Gunman ‘Thought That Jews Control the World,’” Forward, January 17, 2022.

[58] “AMP 2021 Live,” American Muslims for Palestine, 2021; James McAuley, “The Texas Synagogue Hostage Situation Reminds Us That We Must Prioritize Combating Antisemitism,” Washington Post, January 22, 2022.

[59] Michael Kugelman, “Could the United States Ever Release Aafia Siddiqui?” War on the Rocks, October 27, 2014.

[60] Ibid.

[61] Bennett Clifford and Caleb Weiss, “‘Breaking the Walls’ Goes Global: The Evolving Threat of Jihadi Prison Assaults and Riots,” CTC Sentinel 13:2 (2020).

[62] Fairfield and Wallace.

[63] For other examples, see Prachi Vyas, “The Islamic State’s Married Ideology: Something Borrowed, Something New,” Lawfare, July 2, 2017; Seamus Hughes, Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens, and Bennett Clifford, “The Ideologues,” in Homegrown: ISIS in America (London: I.B. Tauris, 2020).

[64] Winter and Margolin; Aki Peritz, “The Coming ISIS Jailbreak,” Foreign Affairs, October 25, 2019.

[65] Audrey Alexander, “Cruel Intentions: Female Jihadists in America,” George Washington University, Program on Extremism, 2016.

[66] Devorah Margolin, “The Changing Roles of Women in Violent Islamist Groups,” in Perspectives on the Future of Women, Gender, and Violent Extremism (Washington, D.C.: George Washington University, Program on Extremism, 2019).

[67] “Memorandum and Order,” United States of America v. Noelle Velentzas and Asia Siddiqui, United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, 2019.

[68] Ibid.

[69] Ibid.

[70] “JFAC Coverage – Aafia Siddiqui Sentencing Hearing, September 23rd 2010,” Justice for Aafia Coalition, September 24, 2010.

[71] Ibid.

[72] “Government Sentencing Memorandum,” United States of America v. Noelle Velentzas and Asia Siddiqui, United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, March 2, 2020.

[73] Ibid.

[74] Ibid.

[75] Ibid.

[76] “Woman Sentenced to 198 Months in Prison for Teaching and Distributing Information About Weapons of Mass Destruction,” U.S. Department of Justice, June 16, 2021; “Queens Woman Sentenced to More Than 16 Years’ Imprisonment for Teaching and Distributing Information About Weapons of Mass Destruction,” U.S. Department of Justice, June 16, 2021.

[77] “Woman Sentenced to 198 Months in Prison for Teaching and Distributing Information About Weapons of Mass Destruction;” “Queens Woman Sentenced to More Than 16 Years’ Imprisonment for Teaching and Distributing Information About Weapons of Mass Destruction.”

[78] Alexander, “Cruel Intentions.”

[79] Ibid.

[80] Clifford and Weiss; Peritz.

[81] Clifford and Weiss; Peritz.

[82] Clifford and Weiss; Peritz.

[83] Harris, “Lady al Qaeda.”

[84] “Revised Statement of Facts,” United States of America v. Abdirahman Sheik Mohamud, United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, August 14, 2015.

[85] Ibid.

[86] Ibid.

[87] Ibid.

[88] “Application for a Search Warrant,” United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, April 9, 2015.

[89] Ibid.

[90] “Revised Statement of Facts,” United States of America v. Abdirahman Sheik Mohamud.

[91] Ibid.

[92] Ibid.

[93] Ibid.

[94] Ibid.

[95] Ibid.

[96] “Terror Plot Dismantled,” Federal Bureau of Investigation, March 8, 2018.

[97] Ibid.

[98] Ibid.

[99] Harris, “Lady al Qaeda.”

[100] Sandra Jontz, “Militants Threaten to Execute U.S. Soldier,” Stars and Stripes, February 6, 2010.

[101] Bill Roggio, “Zawahiri Claims al Qaeda Is Holding US Citizen Hostage,” FDD’s Long War Journal, December 1, 2011.

[102] Hannah Armstrong, “The In Amenas Attack in the Context of Southern Algeria’s Growing Social Unrest,” CTC Sentinel 7:2 (2014).

[103] Ibid.

[104] “Yemen’s al Qaeda Leader Says U.S. Refused to Trade ‘blind Sheikh’ for Hostage,” Reuters, March 6, 2017.

[105] “Statement of Facts,” United States of America v. Alexanda Amon Kotey, United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, September 2, 2021.

[106] James Gordon Meek, Megan Christie, Brian Epstein, and Brian Ross, “Proof of Life: ISIS Hostage Kayla Mueller’s Heartbreaking Never-Before-Seen Video Message From Captivity,” ABC News, August 25, 2016.

[107] Shane Harris, “Kayla Mueller’s Family Asked U.S. to Give ISIS ‘Lady al Qaeda,’” Daily Beast, February 11, 2015.

[108] “Full Text of the Final Email ISIS Sent to James Foley’s Family,” NBC News, August 22, 2014.

[109] Ibid.

[110] “Statement of Facts,” United States of America v. Alexanda Amon Kotey.

[111] Ibid.

[112] “Exclusive: Texas Synagogue Terrorist Ranted about ‘F***ing Jews’ in Last Call to Family Made during Siege.”

[113] Harris, “Lady al Qaeda.”

[114] “Affidavit in Support of Application for a Search Warrant,” United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, March 17, 2015.

[115] Ibid.

[116] Ibid.

[117] Ibid.

[118] Ibid.

[119] Ibid.

[120] Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens, Seamus Hughes, and Bennett Clifford, “The Travelers: American Jihadists in Syria and Iraq,” George Washington University, Program on Extremism, 2018.

[121] Audrey Alexander, Cash Camps: Financing and Detainee Activities in al-Hol and Roj Camps (West Point, NY: Combating Terrorism Center, 2021); Audrey Alexander, “‘Help for Sisters’: A Look at Crowdfunding Campaigns with Potential Links to Terrorist and Criminal Networks,” GNET, June 11, 2020; Aaron Zelin, “Wilayat Al-Hawl: ‘Remaining’ and Incubating the Next Islamic State Generation,” Policy Notes 70, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2019.

[122] Alexander, Cash Camps; Alexander, “‘Help for Sisters;’” Zelin.

[123] Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens, Bennett Clifford, and Lorenzo Vidino, “Antisemitism as an Underlying Precursor to Violent Extremism,” George Washington University, Program on Extremism, 2020.

[124] Ibid.

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