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February 10, 2022 3:22 pm
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Campaign to Free Terrorist Supported by Texas Synagogue Gunman Spiked Before Attack, Report Finds

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

Malik Faisal Akram is seen in this handout photo taken at a faith based daytime outreach center in Dallas, Texas, U.S., January 2, 2022 and obtained by Reuters on January 18, 2022. Courtesy of OurCalling, LLC./Handout via REUTERS

A social media campaign connected to a top American Muslim organization that seeks the release of a woman convicted of attacking US troops ramped up late last year, weeks before a gunman attacked a Texas synagogue in an apparent bid to obtain her freedom, according to a new report.

Malik Faisal Akram took four hostages last month at a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, and demanded the release of Aafia Siddiqui. His hostages escaped after an hours-long siege. Law enforcement officers then stormed the building, ultimately killing Akram.

Siddiqui is a Pakistani national educated in the US who is currently jailed for 86 years in a federal prison in Texas for attempting to kill US military personnel in Afghanistan. She was also found to be in possession of notes that referred to a “mass casualty attack” and listed various locations in the US, according to the Justice Department, with the FBI stating that she was an operative for al-Qaeda.

Some organizations, including the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), have claimed that Siddiqui is innocent and are heavily involved in a campaign for her release.

A report by the Network Contagion Research Institute (NCRI), in partnership with the Rutgers University Miller Center for Community Protection and Resilience, found that demands for Siddiqui’s release were relatively quiet until late August 2021, when the subject began attracting thousands of tweets daily.

The social media spike was mainly driven by Twitter accounts based in Pakistan, some of which may have been bots, according to the report, which was released by the Combat Antisemitism Movement. In September, CAIR’s Texas branch got involved after Siddiqui was allegedly assaulted in prison, with in-person and virtual events and the launch of a #FreeAafia hashtag on Twitter. At a rally hosted by the organization that month near the prison where Siddiqui is incarcerated, one speaker denounced US courts helmed by “Zionist judges.”

CAIR-Texas also “promoted the central node of the self-identified Pakistani network to promote Aafia-related material,” according to the report, “and the most shared URL by the predominantly self-identified Pakistani network was a link to CAIR-Texas’s website promoting the Aafia campaign.”

Antisemitism was also a part of the social media campaign by Pakistani-identified accounts, according to the NCRI report, with machine learning generating “topic networks around the seed term ‘Zionist’ — and a number of antisemitic tropes (as per the IHRA definition of antisemitism) appearing in the topic network. Thus, the network of key influencers disseminating the #IAmAafia hashtag appear to disseminate and amplify antisemitic content.”

Siddiqui herself has expressed antisemitic views. She refused to work with her initial defense attorney because she was Jewish, and demanded that her jurors undergo DNA tests to determine if they were Jewish. She also blamed Jews for the Holocaust in a letter to former president Barack Obama.

The NCRI report found that CAIR-Texas was heavily involved in the online campaign for Siddiqui’s release and “the recent spike in Free Aafia campaigning does not appear to have arisen spontaneously, but rather as a result of planning and shared ideology.”

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