Why ISIS is Using a Texas Prisoner in a Bargaining Ploy

By David Brown and Rhonda FanningSeptember 5, 2014 7:44 pm

She’s been called “Lady al-Qaeda” for her obvious connection to the terrorist organization, but why is the self-proclaimed Islamic State now demanding the release of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui in exchange for U.S. prisoners?

Siddiqui is serving an 86-year sentence in a federal prison in Fort Worth for attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon. Now ISIS is using her as a bargaining chip – but how did Siddiqui’s release become a negotiation tactic?

Texas Standard host David Brown spoke to religious scholar Dr. Reza Aslan, who says the group is wagering Siddiqui’s release to gain influence and ideological inroads in Pakistan.

“Her freedom is utterly irrelevant and immaterial,” Aslan said. “ISIS couldn’t care less about Aafia Siddiqui and by no means do they ever think she will be released.”

Aslan said that ISIS’s primary interest in Siddiqui is to gain support in Pakistan, a country where the organization has not yet been able to gain a foothold. By appealing to those who have called for Siddiqui’s release, ISIS hopes to appeal to the average Pakistani.

“Simply by absorbing that grievance into their own list of grievances by pretending that what they are doing is on behalf of this woman, they draw in Pakistanis to their cause,” Aslan said.

Organizations like ISIS are fighting what Aslan calls “a war of the imagination.” Instead of addressing particular issues, their goal is ideological. This makes dealing with them a challenge.

“You can’t have a dialogue with an organization whose stated goal is the eradication of evil from the universe. The only response to an ISIS militant is a military response,” Aslan says. “They have to be destroyed.”

But, he says, force alone isn’t enough to stop the spread of organizations like ISIS. Focusing on the underlying issues that ISIS uses to gain support could help curb the spread of extremism.

“You address those grievances to take away the appeal of ISIS, to take away the means that ISIS uses to draw people to their cause.”