NEW YORK – A U.S.-trained Pakistani scientist accused of helping Al Qaeda and shooting at FBI agents in Afghanistan was forced to appear in court Monday for a hearing to determine if she is competent to stand trial.
Aafia Siddiqui kept her hands folded as she entered court Monday surrounded by marshal's deputies. When U.S. District Judge Richard Berman said that she was presumed innocent, she shook her head in apparent disagreement.
Days ago a judge's order granted authorities permission to take Siddiqui to court against her will, defense attorney Dawn Cardi said.
Psychologists for both prosecutors and the defense said Siddiqui has claimed she saw some of her children in her cell and seemed particularly disturbed by strip searches required before any court appearance. The psychologists wrote in court documents put in the public court record late last week that Siddiqui repeatedly stated she was dead after one strip search and that she said she was convinced video of the search was distributed on the Internet.
Prosecutors accuse Siddiqui of having ties to Al Qaeda and say she grabbed a U.S. Army officer's M-4 rifle in Afghanistan, pointed it at an Army captain and cried "Allahu akbar," Arabic for "God is great." They say she fired at U.S. soldiers and FBI agents before she was shot and wounded by an Army officer.
A defense attorney has disputed that account, saying the U.S. government has the facts wrong.
Siddiqui, a specialist in neuroscience who trained at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brandeis University, appeared in court twice after she was brought to the U.S. last August but has refused to attend proceedings since then. She's charged with attempted murder and assault.
Berman, who had entered a not guilty plea on Siddiqui's behalf, said he would not rule Monday on whether she is competent to stand trial, but would hear the testimony of mental health professionals who have evaluated Siddiqui over the last year. A trial is set for Oct. 19.
The government is expected to highlight the conclusions by three experts that Siddiqui, 37, is exaggerating psychological symptoms, perhaps to avoid trial.
Cardi likely will point to findings by a physician and another expert, psychologist L. Thomas Kucharski, who has said Siddiqui suffers from delusional disorder and depression and is unfit for trial.
The prosecution's Gregory B. Saathoff, an associate professor in psychiatric medicine at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, said Siddiqui's verbal reports of hallucinations of seeing her children in her cell were quite dramatic. But he said her unemotional references to her own death were inconsistent and not accompanied by physical symptoms of depression one might expect, such as changes in appetite, weight, sleep and hygiene.
Saathoff wrote that Siddiqui had expressed to Pakistani officials who met with her in jail a desire to return directly to Pakistan but she had a different answer when he asked her about the statements. He said she told him: "Why do you bring up Pakistan? This world is all the same. There are worse places than this place. I just want to be put in some prison and be forgotten. It's better for everybody."
Cardi said authorities don't know the whereabouts of two of Siddiqui's three children. The third child is living with her sister in Pakistan.