Pakistani Woman Faces Terror Rap In NYC

Aafia Siddiqui, whom police say a possible al-Qaida associate, is seen in the custody of Counter Terrrorism Department of Ghazni province in Ghazni City, Afghanistan, on Thursday, July 17, 2008.
AP Photo
An MIT-educated Pakistani woman once identified as a possible al Qaeda associate has been brought to New York to face charges she tried to kill U.S. agents and military officers during an interrogation in Afghanistan, federal prosecutors said.

Aafia Siddiqui, who was shot and wounded last month during the confrontation, was expected to be arraigned Tuesday in federal court in Manhattan on charges of attempted murder and assault, U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia said in a statement. A lawyer for her family said the allegations are false.

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

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."

Sharp 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 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," Sharp said. "When the truth comes out, people will see she did nothing wrong."

At the time of the incident, Afghan officials gave conflicting accounts of what transpired between Siddiqui and the U.S. interrogators. U.S. military officials declined comment.

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 Qaeda.

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 Sept. 11.

Though they never alleged she was a full-fledged member of al Qaeda, 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 is charged with one count each of attempted murder and assault. If convicted, she faces up to 20 years in prison on each charge.