A Pakistani woman is facing charges in New York that she tried to kill U.S. officers in Afghanistan. With her sudden appearance in the US, a series of questions have emerged. For instance, where she has been for the past five years, whether she was held secretly somewhere, if yes, who held her, and why?
Aafia Siddiqui, top row, second from left on the FBI’s list of people being sought by the U.S.
36-year-old Aafia Siddiqui is a graduate from the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She is a mother of three children and a neuroscientist by profession. In 2003, she disappeared from Karachi under mysterious circumstances.
A year later, at a news conference FBI Director Robert Mueller III identified Aafia Siddiqui as one of seven Al-Qaeda suspects posing a danger to America. “Each of these individuals is known to have the desire and the ability to undertake planning facilitations and attacks against the US,” he said.
‘A secret detainee’
Her family members strongly deny these allegations. They claim she was abducted and imprisoned in a secret US detention centre. Speaking at a press conference in Karachi earlier this week, her sister Fauzia Siddiqui also alleged her sister was raped and tortured under detention:"This is a story of much greater significance than just my sister or one woman. Her rape and torture is a crime beyond anything she was ever accused of."
On Tuesday, Siddiqui appeared in a court in New York on charges that she tried to kill US officers in Afghanistan last month. The prosecution claimed that she, along with one of her sons, was arrested on July 17 in the central Afghan city of Ghazni, for allegedly carrying bomb-making instructions and suspicious liquids. The next day, at the military headquarters, she allegedly seized a US serviceman's rifle during interrogation and opened fire at US officials present there.
Her lawyer Elaine Whitfield Sharp claims the charges are not credible. She adds that her client suffered a gunshot wound and is physically very weak and traumatised. Rights activists also find the US authorities’ version contradictory.
Sam Zarifi from Amnesty International in London insists the US officials should reveal more information on the case. “We know that the Afghan forces held a press conference on July 18 with Aafia and her 13 year old son. So, American authorities went to Ghazni headquarters knowing that they were trying to pick up a possible terrorism suspect. Now if they are suggesting they were overpowered by this woman, either we are looking at serious incompetence or we are not hearing the whole story.”
Moreover, no-one has accounted for Aafia's whereabouts from 2003 to 2008. The case has prompted protests in Pakistan. Siddiqui's supporters are also demanding more information about her children. Meanwhile reports say the Pakistani embassy in the United States has sought consular access to Siddiqui.
However Zarifi from Amnesty says Islamabad should do more to help resolve the case. “The Pakistani government should find out about her son, who was with her. And they should see that she gets proper legal representation.”
On Monday, Siddiqui will attend a bail hearing. A preliminary hearing over the case is scheduled for later this month. She may get a maximum sentence of 20 years, if found guilty.