After high school, Sidiqi, unsure exactly what he wanted to do next, joined the Air Force and worked in avionics in New Jersey.
He yearned to visit Afghanistan, his father’s native country. Sidiqi’s mother worked there as a volunteer with the Peace Corps. They left for the United States in the 1970s during another period of political turmoil, as the Soviet military invaded the country, clashing with fighters known as the mujahideen.
“To have your whole country and identity taken from you has an effect on you. We would hear about Afghanistan, but it was just an unattainable place that we couldn’t go to,” Sidiqi said.
He finally got there in 2010, working as a military contractor with the U.S. Defense Department to stabilize the post-invasion Afghan economy. Sidiqi said he helped rehabilitate an oil field and worked on various construction projects around the country.
“It was a real place again. It had so much hope and so much potential,” he said.
Later, he started several coffee shops in the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, and was eventually promoted to overseeing the embassy’s morale and welfare activities. He also worked transporting troops around U.S. military bases across the country.
When Sidiqi’s brother won a government contract to open a copper mine and gave him the job of running it, he said he hoped it would become “a good vessel to help bring jobs for the economy and get Afghanistan going to the direction we need to go to be able to sustain itself.”
Life was going smoothly for Sidiqi, his wife, and their infant daughter until last month, when attacks by the Taliban in his neighborhood in Kabul began to intensify.
The State Department told Sidiqi to leave, but he stayed put because he couldn’t get visas for his wife and daughter to come with him. However, as the Taliban closed in on the Afghan capital, he decided to try and escape with them anyway.
His first attempt to leave through the Kabul airport was traumatic. He said he attempted to go through a gate guarded by Afghan police.
“They start firing in the air to distract people, deter people from trying to come in and get away, but they got bumrushed. And so then they started firing into the crowd of people coming in, and they started killing people,” he said.
“We followed a bunch of dead bodies onto the right side that had been moved to the side. One guy to the left where the gates closed was sitting, and somebody was trying to put pressure on him. And there’s just blood shooting from his chest,” Sidiqi said. “I’m sure he died. Women and children died. People were trampled.”
He eventually fought his way out of the airport and made it home, exhausted and dejected.
“I was just completely drained, and having to go through walking past all these dead bodies and people getting shot up in front of you with a kid is just very, very challenging,” he said. “And very taxing on your mind and your body.”
Just a few days later, that same gate Sidiqi and his family attempted to flee through was the site of an ISIS-K attack in which over 100 Afghans and over a dozen U.S. troops were killed.
After seeing the chaos on the news from thousands of miles away, Haney reached out to Sidiqi, to whom he hadn’t spoken in months, and asked if there was anything he could do for him. Sidiqi’s State Department connections had already left the country and could no longer help him.
Haney said Sidiqi’s text that night gave him chills.
“He said, ‘If you’re a man of God, pray.’ And he left it at that,” Haney said.