In Boston, Siddiqui led a life between two countries and between two worlds. They clashed when, after her 1995 graduation, her parents arranged her marriage. The bride had never seen her husband before the wedding. In fact, they married on the telephone -- long-distance between Boston and Karachi.
Her husband, Amjad Khan, was an anesthesiologist. His father owned a pharmaceutical factory and the parents considered him a good catch. When he arrived in Boston, he came without presents or flowers. Instead, he could only complain about how much money the family had spent for a small ceremony, a hotel room, and a white silk dress with many pearls for Aafia, which made her look like a princess. It would have been better to donate the money to charity, he said. Weren't there enough needy people in Pakistan?
She earned a PhD in neuroscience and wrote her thesis on learning through imitation. Her sister says Siddiqui had wanted to start a pre-school in Boston, where children would be taught using techniques she had studied.
This is the one side of Siddiqui, the smart academic and patient wife. But there is another side -- the devout moralist, the energetic fundraiser.
As a young biology student she invited non-Muslims to dinner, touted Islam and gave Koran courses for converts. She met several committed Islamists through the Muslim student group at MIT. One was Suheil Laher, the group's imam, an open advocate of Islamization and jihad before Sept. 11. For a short time, Laher was also the head of the Islamic charity Care International, which had nothing to do with the eponymous aid organization. The group, which was believed to have collected funds for jihadist fighters in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Chechnya, has since been disbanded.
Siddiqui collected money for Bosnian war orphans for Care International. Imam Abdullah Faaruuq, a black convert who wears a caftan over his blue jeans and polo shirt, remembers an event where Siddiqui collected shoes for Bosnian refugees and said, sobbing: "How can you have more than one pair of shoes when our brothers in Bosnia are freezing?"
"Sister Aafia was very committed, highly intelligent and extremely concerned about the fate of Muslims worldwide, and she believed that she could make a difference in the world," says Faaruuq. She often came to the "Mosque for the Praising of Allah," a shabby house of prayer in Roxbury, a working-class neighborhood of Boston. She ordered large numbers of English-language Korans and religious literature, stored the boxes at the mosque and later handed out the books in prisons.
But there are no indications that she supported the Islamists' war against infidels.
The Diamond Smuggler
But there are also serious allegations against Siddiqui, most of them revealed only after her disappearance. For instance, the couple's credit card was used to order night-vision goggles and body armor from an online store selling military equipment. The FBI questioned Amjad Khan for the first time in the spring of 2002, after those purchases. He told them that the equipment was for big-game hunting in Pakistan. Siddiqui was also questioned -- only, as her attorney stresses, because she happened to be home at the time.
It was the first and last time the FBI ever contacted the couple.
Siddiqui is also accused of having opened a post office box in Maryland in late December 2002 for Majid Khan. Khan, a Pakistani national, is being held at Guantanamo and is suspected of having planned attacks on gas stations in the Baltimore area -- on orders from Sheikh Mohammed.
And then there is the issue of the blood diamonds. This is the most serious accusation, because it seems to cement the suspicion that Siddiqui is a terrorist. In June 2001, a few months before the attacks on New York and Washington, Siddiqui is believed by some to have traveled to the Liberian capital Monrovia, on behalf of al-Qaida's leadership, to buy diamonds worth $19 million (15 million), which were used to fund al-Qaida operations.
Alan White, the former chief investigator of a United Nations-backed war crimes tribunal in Liberia, who investigated the trade in blood diamonds, still swears that it was Siddiqui who, on June 16, 2001, appeared in Monrovia under the name "Fahrem." One of the witnesses was her driver who, according to White, identified Siddiqui.
All these allegations are a mix of facts and conjecture. Some testimony cannot be verified, or was obtained under questionable circumstances, or from witnesses who have since disappeared. But it is clear that the authorities have been unable to confirm any of these allegations, or else terrorism charges would have been leveled against Siddiqui by now. But it was apparently enough evidence to get the Muslim missionary caught in the net of terrorist hunters in the panic-filled years after Sept. 11, 2001.
The attorney for Siddiqui's family, Elaine Whitfield Sharp, believes the husband was under suspicion in the United States from the start. "He played a shady role," says the mother, Ismet Siddiqui, who has even suggested that Khan may have betrayed her daughter to save his own skin. Khan is no longer available for questioning. He has disappeared, and his family refuses to provide any information on his whereabouts, although he is believed to be in Saudi Arabia.