WASHINGTON: Pakistan is again under scrutiny for its global terrorism footprint after an FBI team shot dead a man who took hostages in a Texas synagogue on Saturday demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani-American neuroscientist serving an 86-year sentence on terrorism-related charges.
According to a Times of India (ToI) report, Islamabad repeatedly demanded that Washington free Siddiqui, a cause celebre in Pakistan and its extremist circles.
The latest episode in US-Pakistan terrorism wrangles began on Saturday morning when a man took four Jewish hostages in a synagogue in Colleyville in the Dallas-Forth Worth area, demanding authorities free his “sister” Aafia Siddiqui, who is incarcerated at the Federal Medical Center 22 miles away in Carswell.
During a 12-hour stand-off, a lawyer for Aafia Siddiqui’s family told the media that the perpetrator was not Siddiqui’s brother and “she does not want any violence perpetrated against any human being, especially in her name”.
The hostage taker claimed to be armed with bombs. Late in the evening, an FBI hostage rescue team that had flown in from the Bureau’s headquarters in Quantico stormed the synagogue after two of the hostages broke free and fled.
Grainy video footage on social media showed two hostages bolting from the synagogue door, chased by the perpetrator, who quickly withdraws inside after spotting armed SWAT teams outside.
Local media said an explosion and gun shots were heard, and shortly thereafter authorities announced all hostages were free and safe and the hostage-taker was dead. Authorities on Sunday identified the hostage-taker as a 44-year-old British national named Malik Faisal Akram. He was shot and killed after the last of the hostages got out at around 9pm (local time) on Saturday.
In a statement, the FBI said there was no indication that anyone else was involved, but it didn’t provide a possible motive. President Joe Biden called the attack “an act of terror”. He also said the suspect was able to purchase weapons on the street and may have only been in the country a few weeks.
According to the ToI report, London’s Metropolitan Police said in a statement that its counter-terrorism police were liaising with US authorities about the incident. Akram’s brother Gulbar posted on Facebook that the suspect, from the town of Blackburn in England, suffered from mental illness and said the family had spent all night at the Blackburn police station “liaising with Faisal, the negotiators, FBI etc.”
Islamabad has long sought the release of Aafia Siddiqui, whose initiation into extremist circles while she pursued a masters and PhD in Boston, her journey to and from Pakistan, her ties to al-Qaida, and her subsequent capture and conviction, constitutes one of the more murky chapters in the US war on terror.
She is regarded as a “daughter of the nation” by sections of the Pakistan establishment who have campaigned for her release from jail.
Pakistan PM Imran Khan was reported to have deputed his parliamentary affairs adviser Babar Awan to oversee efforts to secure Siddiqui’s release, an effort that involved petitioning US President Joe Biden after meeting with the convict’s family.
While the effort has met with stony silence from Washington, the Pakistani establishment in the past floated the idea of a prisoner-swap, including at one time offering to exchange CIA contractor Raymond Davis for Siddiqui, a proposal the Obama administration rejected.