The Colleyville Hostage Crisis: Aafia Siddiqui’s Continued Pertinence in Jihadi Terror Plots against the United States

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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.
Local police arrived at the scene at approximately
12:30 PM.
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.
Siddiqui is currently serving an 86-year sentence
at a federal prison in nearby Fort Worth, Texas.

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.
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.
One hostage—the
congregation’s rabbi, Charlie Cytron-Walker—reported that Akram
became “increasingly belligerent and threatening” in the later parts
of the standoff.
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.
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.
During the rescue, Akram was shot
and killed by HRT officers.10 In total, the standoff lasted 11 hours.
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.” 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. 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. 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

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.
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. 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

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. 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.
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
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.
She later obtained a doctorate in cognitive neuroscience from
Brandeis University in 2001. In June 2002, Siddiqui returned
to Pakistan with her children after divorcing her first husband.
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.
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. 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. The plot
collapsed when Khan was arrested in Pakistan.
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. Days later,
her parents reported that she had disappeared from their house in
Karachi. 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. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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.
Aafia Siddiqui as well as “substances that were sealed in bottles and glass jars.”
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.
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.
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. 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.
Later that year, she was sentenced to 86 years in federal prison.
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.

How “Free Aafia Siddiqui” Became a Jihadi Cause
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 alTimimi, 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).
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.
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.
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

and anti-war groups in the United States have also signed petitions
to the U.S. government on her behalf. 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. 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.

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 antiSemitic

conspiracy theories. 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.”

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.” 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.”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.
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 hostagetaking 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.
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.

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.
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. 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. 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.” 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. 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. 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. Some
evidence suggests that Asia Siddiqui attended Aafia Siddiqui’s
sentencing hearing in 2010 as a “correspondent” for the Justice
for Aafia Coalition. 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.”
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. 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. 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.” The pair
were arrested in April 2015 and pleaded guilty to federal explosives
charges in 2019. In 2021, Asia Siddiqui was sentenced to 15 years
in federal prison; her co-conspirator Velentzas received a 16-and a-half year sentence.
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. 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. 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. Prison Break Plotting
Assaulting prisons to free captive jihadis is a tried-and-true method
for jihadi organizations. 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. 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. 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. Nevertheless,
at least one exception to this norm exists: a 2014 plot by then-alQa`ida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra to send American operatives from
Syria to Texas to attack FMC Carswell and free Aafia Siddiqui from
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. His brother Abdifatah Aden had already
joined the group, and assisted Mohamud in coordinating travel
arrangements, finances, and logistics. 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.
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
Mohamud later told investigators that his handlers gave him the
simple objective of freeing Aafia Siddiqui from prison. 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. 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.
After Mohamud’s brother was killed in Syria in early June
2014, Mohamud returned to the United States. 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. In November 2014, Mohamud purchased
a plane ticket from Columbus to Dallas, Texas, so that he could
conduct reconnaissance for the prison plot. However, Mohamud
did not board the flight. 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. He was subsequently charged in federal
court with provision of material support to terrorism and making
false statements to the FBI. Mohamud pleaded guilty and was
sentenced to 22 years in prison in 2018.

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. 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. In 2010, days after Siddiqui’s conviction, the
Taliban threatened to execute U.S. Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl
if Siddiqui was not immediately released. 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. 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.” 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.
On at least three occasions, an Islamic State cell of Englishspeakers 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. 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.”
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. In August 2014, “the
Beatles” sent captured American journalist James Foley’s family an
email, days before he was eventually murdered. 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.” 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. The
U.S. government again rejected this deal, and Sotloff was murdered
in September 2014.

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. 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. Akram was the first individual to carry out a hostagetaking 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. 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.”
The group allegedly raised money to purchase handguns, military-style
clothing, and ski masks. Mohamud claimed that they planned on
surveilling several military installations in Texas and Ohio to select
a site for the hostage-taking.
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. 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.” 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.
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.  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. 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. 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
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.
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.


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