Afghans Free Son of Pakistani Al-Qaeda Suspect

By Candace Rondeaux
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, September 16, 2008

KARACHI, Pakistan, Sept. 15 -- The 12-year-old son of an American-educated Pakistani woman whom U.S. authorities have linked to al-Qaeda has been handed over to Pakistani authorities in Afghanistan and is soon to be reunited with family in Pakistan, Afghan and Pakistani officials said Monday.

The boy was detained in Afghanistan along with his mother, Aafia Siddiqui, in July, and his fate since then has been one of the many unanswered questions about his mother's case. Siddiqui is now in New York facing federal charges.

Afghan authorities released the boy to the Pakistani Embassy in the Afghan capital, Kabul, after learning that he holds dual citizenship in Pakistan and the United States, said Sultan Ahmed Baheen, a spokesman for the Afghan Foreign Ministry. "He is being sent back to relatives in Pakistan -- probably with his aunt."

Siddiqui is a behavioral scientist with degrees from Brandeis University and MIT. According to a federal indictment filed against her in New York this month, Siddiqui and her son were taken into custody while wandering near the home of the governor of Ghazni province. Her handbag was found to contain instructions for making bombs and chemical weapons, and notes that referred to a "mass casualty attack," the Empire State Building, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty, the indictment alleged.

U.S. officials say that while in Afghan custody, Siddiqui grabbed the M4 rifle of a U.S. soldier who had come to question her. She fired several shots at him and other Americans and was herself shot in the subsequent scuffle, according to the indictment. Charged in a New York federal court last month, she could face a possible life sentence for allegedly attempting to kill the Americans.

According to a biography of high-value detainees released by the office of the U.S. National Director of Intelligence, Siddiqui married top al-Qaeda operative Ammar al-Baluchi shortly before he was arrested in Pakistan in April 2003 in connection with helping to plot the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

U.S. officials have alleged that Baluchi was a key assistant and relative of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, said to have been the central planner of the 9/11 attacks. Baluchi allegedly asked Siddiqui to assist another al-Qaeda plotter, Majid Khan, with gaining entry into the United States in 2002.

Siddiqui's whereabouts for the past five years have also been the subject of discord.

Family members say she and her three children disappeared five years ago when she was on her way to the airport in Karachi, where she planned to board a plane to visit an uncle in Islamabad. Siddiqui's sister, Fauzia Siddiqui, denies that her sister had any links to al-Qaeda.

British journalist and activist Yvonne Ridley has said that Siddiqui matched the description of a female prisoner held for five years in the U.S- run prison at Bagram air base in Afghanistan. Siddiqui's family has said she was tortured by Americans there.

Siddiqui's lawyers also say that she was kept in secret captivity in Pakistan at one point. The ordeal, they said, left her with severe physical and mental problems.

CIA officials have said she was never in U.S. custody and that they had no knowledge of Siddiqui's whereabouts before she surfaced in Ghazni in July.

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