‘Lady Al-Qaeda,’ Brandeis University and extremism – analysis

Jewish university distances itself from terrorist graduate, but critics say the educational institution has long been a hotbed of both far-left and Islamist extremism.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

The gunman who held a rabbi and several congregants hostage in a Saturday attack on a Texas synagogue demanded the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani convicted terrorist dubbed “Lady Al-Qaeda,” who is currently serving an 86-year sentence in a federal penitentiary in Texas.

But despite a history of virulently antisemitic and anti-Israel remarks, Siddiqui attended Brandeis University, a historically Jewish university in Massachusetts where nearly half of the student body identifies as Jews.

“While Siddiqui received a PhD at Brandeis more than two decades ago, it should go without saying that the university has no connection to the attack in Texas, and condemns it in the strongest possible terms,” a Brandeis spokesperson said in a statement to the media.

“The crimes for which Siddiqui was convicted took place years after she studied here.”

Warning signs ignored?

But Deborah Scroggins, who profiled Siddiqui in a 2012 book, said that hints of Islamist extremism were present during her time at Brandeis.

“She was a very intelligent young woman,” a Brandeis professor told Scroggins. “The only thing that was noticeable, that stood out, was that she wanted to bring fundamentalist Muslim tenets into our work.”

He recounted that within a scientific paper on fetal alcohol syndrome, Siddiqui wrote that the disorder confirmed the Quran’s wisdom in forbidding the consumption of alcohol.

Siddiqui reportedly clashed with professors who suggested she keep religion and science separate when it came to her academic career.

That advice, Scroggins wrote, “reinforced her private belief that American Jews — or, as she often called them, ‘Israeli Americans’ —were forever [plotting] against Muslims.”

After the 9/11 terror attacks, Siddiqui became further radicalized. She was arrested in Afghanistan in 2008, and was found to be in possession of notes describing potential sites for attacks and instructions on how to make dirty bombs.

During an interrogation by U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Siddiqui grabbed a rifle and fired at troops – an act that saw her sentenced to more than eight decades in American prison.

Siddiqui has become a cause celebre among some Muslim advocacy groups, with the Council for Islamic American Relations (CAIR) referring to her as a “victim of the war on terror” and claiming that the evidence for her conviction was flawed.

A self-described “dear friend” of the rabbi taken hostage on Saturday is also an outspoken advocate for Siddiqui and has called for the American government to release her.

The tip of the iceberg

Dr. H. Peter Metzger, a graduate of Brandeis, wrote in 2008 that Siddiqui isn’t the only terrorist to have found a safe haven at the storied Jewish university.

“The fact is that on a per capita basis, Brandeis has had far more than its share of terrorists and that political extremists find an unusually sympathetic and protective administration there [thanks to] the umbrella of academic freedom and ‘social consciousness,’” Metzger wrote.

He noted that in 1970, several Brandeis students who embraced the radical politics of the Black Panthers decided to rob a bank in order to provide the group with funding.

During the holdup, the students shot and killed Boston Police Department officer Walter Schroeder and then robbed a National Guard Armory, stealing a pickup truck and weapons. Several of the students were not immediately arrested, and were added to the FBI’s Most Wanted Fugitives List.

In more recent years, Brandeis’ Crown Center for Middle East studies hired scholar Khalil Shikaki.

While Shikaki was never convicted of a crime, his brother was the founder of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group. Additionally, he was linked in a criminal trial to people convicted of distributing funds to PIJ from American donors.

While the university’s statement distancing the institution from Siddiqui did condemn her crimes, questions remain about why the university appears to be a hotbed for extremism.