Before Islamic militants brutally executed an American journalist last week, they issued a series of demands. Alongside a ransom—more than $130 million—the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria wanted a number of prisoners freed from U.S. custody. One of them was Aafia Siddiqui, whose name came up again in a list of demands ISIS released Tuesday in connection to a second American hostage in its custody.
That second captive is a 26-year-old American woman who was kidnapped while doing humanitarian aid work in Syria last year. In return for her freedom, ISIS is demanding a $6.6 million ransom, along with Siddiqui's release.
Just who is Aafia Siddiqui, the Pakistani woman whose freedom makes the list of demands from one of the most extreme militant groups in the world?
Siddiqui has been called many things: "Most wanted" by the U.S. government in 2004 and "Al-Qaida Mom" by The New York Post soon thereafter, "the most important catch in five years" by a CIA operative after she was apprehended, and a "widely respected" Muslim and humanitarian by the Peace Through Justice Foundation, an advocacy group campaigning for Siddiqui's release.
Born in Karachi, Pakistan, to a middle-class family, Siddiqui, now 42, was educated in the U.S. She has a degree in biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and received a doctorate in cognitive neuroscience from Brandeis. She moved to Boston, married a young doctor from her hometown, and was active at her mosque, raising money for humanitarian causes and handing out English-language copies of the Koran to non-Muslims. Shortly after 9/11, she and her husband were questioned by the FBI about a suspicious online purchase of body armor and $10,000 worth of night-vision equipment, which her husband explained away as intended for "big-game hunting in Pakistan." A few months later, the couple moved back to Pakistan, and soon divorced.