Aafia Siddiqui (FBI)
Evidence of an Al-Qaeda presence in Beantown. From the Boston Globe, with thanks to Mrs. Obelix:
WASHINGTON — The FBI is investigating a possible Al Qaeda connection to several people who lived in a Mission Hill apartment building that was once home to Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani microbiologist now alleged to be a fixer for the Al Qaeda mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.
About two weeks ago, FBI agents questioned Hatem al-Dhahri, a Saudi Arabian man who shared a lease in 2001 on a Mission Hill apartment with Siddiqui’s husband, Mohammad Amjad Khan, according to a spokesman for the Saudi Arabian embassy.
The same agents interviewed Dhahri in April of 2003, but were not persuaded at the time he was part of any terrorist activity, according to the embassy spokesman, Nail al-Jubeir.
However, recent evidence of unusual financial transfers have apparently sparked a reexamination of Siddiqui’s neighbors and associates. The transfers came to light as part of a broader probe of possible terrorist connections to clerics and charities in the United States financed by the Saudi Arabian government.
Newsweek reported this week that Dhahri and another Saudi Arabian man who lived in the building during 2001 were involved in a $20,000 wire transfer from the Saudi Arabian embassy flagged as suspicious by Fleet Bank. The Saudi embassy said that the transfer was routine financial assistance for medical treatment.
But Newsweek reported that federal investigators are probing whether the money was used to finance terrorism. According to Newsweek, investigators were stunned to learn that the transfer involved Dhahri, who lived at the same apartment number as Siddiqui and saw the connection as evidence of a possible Al Qaeda “sleeper cell” in Boston. During their April 2003 interview with Dhahri, they had shown him photos of past residents of the building, including pictures of Siddiqui and Khan.
US Attorney Michael J. Sullivan confirmed yesterday that there is an active investigation of Siddiqui and Khan, who have both left the United States. He wouldn’t comment on the couple’s suspected terrorist ties.
Gail Marcinkiewicz, a spokeswoman for the FBI in Boston, said the FBI doesn’t believe Al Qaeda sleeper cells have operated in the Boston area in the past or are doing so now, but confirmed that “there are ongoing investigations.”
Investigators named Siddiqui, who left Boston for Pakistan before Sept. 11, 2001, as a suspected Al Qaeda fixer over a year ago.
The FBI put out a worldwide alert on her in March of 2003, after the capture in Pakistan of top Al Qaeda suspect Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Newsweek has reported.
According to the magazine, Mohammed told investigators Siddiqui had helped open a post office box for another Al Qaeda member in Baltimore and was supposed to support other Al Qaeda members in the United States. The same report said Khan had purchased body armor, night-vision goggles, and military manuals.
The recent financial probe uncovered evidence that Siddiqui, while in the United States, had also purchased items at military suppliers, including Black Hawk Industries in Chesapeake, Va., and Brigade Quartermasters in Georgia, and had donated to charities that are under suspicion.
Mitchell WerBell, president of Brigade Quartermasters, said no investigators had come to ask about Siddiqui and that his mail-order database did not show her name, her husband’s name, or the Mission Hill address, 75 St. Alphonsus St.
It is clear, however, that people who once lived in the apartment building are being scrutinized.
The St. Alphonsus Street apartment is listed as the address for the Institute for Islamic Research and Teaching, a nonprofit organization that listed Siddiqui as president, her husband as treasurer, and Dr. Fowzia Siddiqui, a woman believed to be her sister, as the resident agent.
Fowzia Siddiqui, who was once a fellow with the Department of Neurology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and has affiliations with Harvard Medical School, abruptly left her job in the fall at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore, according to a fellow doctor.
The doctor, who asked not to be identified, said he had heard the reason that she returned to Pakistan was the frequent questioning by investigators about her sister and because her husband and children were not allowed into the United States.
Dhahri’s connection to the building came in a roundabout way, according to Jubeir, the Saudi embassy spokesman. Dhahri, who stays for long periods of time in Boston so his 7-year-old son can get treatment at Children’s Hospital, met Khan, a medical doctor, at a mosque, Jubeir said. Khan was moving out of his apartment and offered to put Dhahri on the lease so that Dhahri could take it over for the same low rent.
Yesterday, a neighbor at 75 St. Alphonsus St. recalled Dhahri as a man who wore white robes and whose son was wheeled around in a wheelchair until he improved enough to walk with braces.
Another man being eyed in the Saudi financial probe lived in the building, according to Newsweek. Abdullah al-Reshood, a Saudi man who lived in Boston in the spring of 2001 while his wife was getting liver treatment, received $20,000 in July 2001 from the Saudi embassy. Reshood then wrote a check to Dhahri for the same amount, but soon received $17,193 back from him in an account in Saudi Arabia, and the transactions aroused suspicion at Fleet Bank.
But Jubeir said the embassy wired money to pay for Reshood’s wife’s treatment, but that Reshood had to leave the country before his bills were settled. Reshood wrote a check to his friend Dhahri for the amount, asking him to pay the bills and send back the balance, Jubeir said.
“We have nothing to hide,” he said, adding that Dhahri “wants to clear his name.”