NEW YORK, Aug 5: US authorities have formally acknowledged arresting a Pakistani neuroscientist, five years after her mysterious disappearance in Karachi.
Michael J. Garcia, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Mark J. Mershon, Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Raymond W. Kelly, Police Commissioner of the City of New York, announced the arrest of Aafia Siddiqui on charges related to her attempted murder and assault of United States officers and employees in Afghanistan.
Ms Siddiqui arrived in New York on Monday evening and was to be presented before a US Magistrate Judge on Tuesday in the District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Aafia Siddiqui, 36, disappeared with her three children while visiting her parents’ home in Karachi in March 2003, around the same time the FBI announced that it wanted to question her over her alleged links to Al Qaeda.
On Thursday, the FBI informed her brother that she was alive and was in US custody in Afghanistan.
According to the complaint filed in Manhattan federal court on July 17 this year, police officers of the Ghazni province of Afghanistan observed Ms Siddiqui outside the Ghazni governor’s compound. Afghan police officers questioned her, regarded her as suspicious, and searched her handbag. In it, they found numerous documents describing the creation of explosives, as well as excerpts from the Anarchist’s Arsenal. Her papers included descriptions of various landmarks in the United States, including in New York City. Ms Siddiqui was also in possession of substances that were sealed in bottles and glass jars.
Elaine Whitfield Sharp, the lawyer representing Aafia Siddiqui’s family told Dawn earlier on Monday that the MIT-trained Pakistani neuroscientist was being detained for political reasons.
But US authorities gave a different version. According to them, on July 18 this year a party of United States personnel, including two FBI special agents, a US army warrant officer, an army captain and military interpreters, arrived at the Afghan facility where Ms Siddiqui was being held. The personnel entered a second floor meeting room – unaware that Ms Siddiqui was being held there, unsecured, behind a curtain.
The warrant officer took a seat and placed his M-4 rifle on the floor next to the curtain. Shortly after the meeting began, the captain heard a woman yell from the curtain and when he turned he saw Aafia Siddiqui holding the warrant officer’s rifle and pointing it directly at the captain. She said: “May the blood of [unintelligible] be directly on your [unintelligible, possibly head or hands].” The interpreter seated closest to Ms Siddiqui lunged at her and pushed the rifle away as she pulled the trigger. She fired at least two shots but no one was hit. The warrant officer returned fire with a 9 mm service pistol and fired approximately two rounds at her torso, hitting her at least once.
Despite being shot, she struggled with the officers when they tried to subdue her; she struck and kicked them while shouting in English that she wanted to kill Americans. After being subdued, Ms Siddiqui temporarily lost consciousness. The agents and officers then rendered medical aid to her.
The 36-year-old Pakistani who previously resided in the United States is charged in a criminal complaint filed in the Southern District of New York with one count of attempting to kill US officers and employees and one count of assaulting US officers and employees. If convicted, she faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison on each charge.
Mr Garcia praised the investigative work of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and New York City Police Department. He also expressed his gratitude to the Office of International Affairs of the Criminal Division of the United States Department of Justice and the United States Department of State for their assistance in the case. Mr Garcia also thanked the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts for their assistance.
Mr Garcia said the investigation was continuing. Assistant United States Attorney Christopher L. Lavigne is in charge of the prosecution.