Charges for woman accused of Afghan shooting

August 4, 2008 7:01:02 PM PDT
An MIT-educated Pakistani woman once identified as a possible al-Qaida associate has been brought to New York to face charges she tried to kill U.S. officers who were questioning her in Afghanistan about suspicious documents in her handbag. Aafia Siddiqui, who was shot and wounded last month during the wild confrontation, was expected to be arraigned in federal court in Manhattan on Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia announced in a news release. A lawyer for her family said the allegations were false.

Siddiqui, 36, initially was stopped by Afghan police on July 17 outside a government building. The police searched her handbag and discovered documents giving recipes for explosives and chemical weapons and describing "various landmarks in the United States, including New York City," according to a criminal complaint, which didn't identify the landmarks.

Siddiqui also was carrying "chemical substances in gel and liquid form that were sealed in bottles and glass jars," the complaint added.

The next day, as a team of FBI agents and U.S. military officers prepared to question her, Siddiqui grabbed a rifle, pointed it at an Army captain and yelled that she wanted blood, prosecutors said. An interpreter pushed the rifle aside as she fired two shots, which missed, they said. One of two shots fired by a soldier in response hit her in the torso.

Even after being hit, Siddiqui struggled and shouted in English "that she wanted to kill Americans" before the officers subdued her, the complaint said.

The family attorney, Elaine Whitfield Sharp, called the charges "a tall story."

The Boston-based lawyer also disputed the U.S. government's earlier claims that Siddiqui had gone underground for several years before her capture. The family suspects that after she vanished with her three children while in Pakistan in 2003, she was secretly held and possibly tortured there before U.S. authorities finally brought charges to justify her detention.

"I believe she's become a terrible embarrassment to them, but she's not a terrorist," the lawyer said. "When the truth comes out, people will see she did nothing wrong."

At a 2004 news conference, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller III identified Siddiqui as one of seven people the FBI wanted to question about their suspected ties to al-Qaida.

U.S. authorities said at the time that Siddiqui had received a biology degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and wrote a doctoral thesis on neurological sciences at Brandeis University, outside Boston, in 2001 before returning to Pakistan shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Though they never alleged she was a full-fledged member of al-Qaida, authorities said they believed Siddiqui could be a "fixer," someone with knowledge of the United States who supported other operatives trying to slip into the country and plot attacks.

Siddiqui faces up to 20 years in prison on each charge of attempted murder and assault if convicted.

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