A female Pakistani neuroscientist was due in a U.S. court Tuesday after being extradited to the United States on charges of shooting at American soldiers while in detention in Afghanistan.
The case of Aafia Siddiqui has caused outrage in Pakistan, where her family angrily insisted that the U.S.-educated 36-year-old was innocent and accused U.S. forces of secretly holding her for the last five years.
Siddiqui disappeared with her three children from the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi in 2003 and featured on a list of U.S. suspects linked to al-Qaeda the following year.
"What a mockery that after five years in detention Aafia is suddenly discovered in Afghanistan," her younger sister Fauzia Siddiqui told a news conference in Karachi. "My sister is innocent and has never been actually accused of any crime," said Fauzia, a medical doctor.
Arrest and charges
Aafia Siddiqui, who was educated at the elite Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), was arrested on July 17 in Ghazni province, Afghanistan, said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Michael Garcia.
At the time of her arrest, Garcia said Siddiqui was carrying inside her handbag documents on how to make explosives and descriptions of various U.S. landmarks, including in New York City, citing the complaint filed in Manhattan federal court.
When U.S. military officials arrived at her detention facility to pick her up one day after her arrest, Siddiqui rushed out from behind curtains and opened fire with an assault rifle that had been left on the floor, Garcia said.
He said Siddiqui fired two rounds without hitting anybody and was shot in the chest by a U.S. officer who returned fire. She was subdued and then extradited from Afghanistan.
Siddiqui is charged with one count of attempting to kill U.S. officers and employees, and one count of assaulting U.S. officers and employees, with a maximum 20 years in prison on each charge, Garcia said.
Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, has lodged a request with U.S. authorities for consular access to Siddiqui, the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan news agency said.
Her case has become a cause celebre in Pakistan in recent months, with relatives and rights groups repeatedly expressing fears that she was being held in a secret U.S. prison.
Iqbal Haider, secretary general of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said the charges were "false and fabricated" and called for Siddiqui to be tried by an independent tribunal.
"We demand that Aafia's trial should not take place in Guantanamo Bay. We demand that Aafia's relations be allowed immediate access to her," Haider told the Karachi news conference.
Her sister Fauzia added: "Aafia was tortured for five years until one day U.S. authorities announce that they have found her in Afghanistan, which shows how they abused their power and tortured an innocent woman without committing any crime."
The family has no news of Siddiqui's three children, who went missing with her, Fauzia said, adding that they have received death threats warning them not to talk about the case.
U.S. officials have previously accused Aafia Siddiqui of links to Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network.
In 2002, she was tasked by al-Qaeda militant Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, the nephew of self-confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, to prepare paperwork for the entry to the United States of another extremist, according to a profile of al-Baluchi issued by the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Both Ali and Mohammed are detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, facing charges of plotting the September 11, 2001 attacks.