NEW YORK – 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 police on July 17 outside a government building in central Afghanistan's Ghazni province, 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.
Police also found maps of Ghazni on her, including the provincial governor's compounds and the mosques he prayed in, said governor spokesman Sayed Ismail Jahangir.
Siddiqui also was carrying "chemical substances in gel and liquid form that were sealed in bottles and glass jars," the complaint said. It did not elaborate. Jahangir said she was carrying "liquid poison."
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.
Authorities believe she entered the country from Pakistan, crossing the border at Chaman border post into the southern Kandahar province, he said. She spent two days in Kabul before going to Ghazni.
The family attorney, Elaine Whitfield Sharp, called the charges "a tall story."
Sharp 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.
Gen. Khan Mohammad Mujahid, police chief in central Ghazni province, initially said police argued with the Americans over giving up custody of Siddiqui. But he later said there was no argument and that the woman lunged at one of the U.S. soldiers, drawing the gunshot.
U.S. military officials declined comment at the time.
On Tuesday, an Afghan official in Ghazni said the woman took the weapon while U.S. officials were arguing with Afghan security official over the custody rights. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the issue.
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.