Associated Press/AP
Aafia Siddiqui, whom police say a possible al-Qaida associate, is seen in the custody of
Counter Terrrorism Department of Ghazni province in Ghazni City, Afghanistan, on
Thursday, July 17, 2008. (AP)

Conflicting Facts Characterize Siddiqui Terrorism Case

August 17, 2008 10:07 AM
by Josh Katz
The government’s accusations against and treatment of suspected al-Qaida operative Dr. Aafia Siddiqui has raised questions and incited outrage on both sides.

It’s Complicated

Siddiqui’s case is fraught with different and conflicting accounts. What we do know is that she grew up in a well-to-do Pakistani family and is now a 36-year-old mother of three. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a Ph.D. in neuroscience at Brandeis University.

She came under the government’s radar in July 2001 when her husband’s purchase of night vision goggles, body armor and military manuals on the Internet generated FBI suspicion. The FBI spoke with her husband, not with her, and apparently dropped the case when he said the supplies were for hunting, the government says.

The U.S. Government’s Account

The story becomes more nebulous after Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the accused mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, was captured in March 2003 and he allegedly cited Siddiqui’s involvement in al-Qaida. The FBI then placed her on its most wanted list and she disappeared soon after.

She reputedly then went to Islamabad, Pakistan to visit family. “Then she and her three children apparently vanished,” according to NPR. “A short time later, Pakistan's Interior Ministry confirmed that she had been picked up. Then they backtracked and said they had been mistaken.”

This past July 17, Siddiqui appeared in Afghanistan's Ghazni province
and was stopped near a government building. The U.S. government says the Afghan authorities then “found recipes for radioactive, chemical and biological weapons and explosives, documents detailing U.S. military assets, excerpts from the Anarchists Arsenal, a bomb-making handbook, and one-gigabyte thumb drive, now being analyzed by technology experts, inside Siddiqui’s purse,” according to Fox News. She allegedly had a list of New York landmarks including the Statue of Liberty, the subway system and the government laboratory on Plum Island off the eastern end of Long Island.

The government then said FBI agents and military officers took her for questioning, where she seized a rifle and fired at the U.S. officials but missed. One soldier allegedly shot her in the torso.

Siddiqui was then extradited to New York last week, where she faces charges of attempted murder and assault for the alleged incident during the questioning. A Manhattan Federal Court judge postponed her session on Monday, August 11 to September 3, so Siddiqui, who had been shot and currently uses a wheelchair, could receive more medical attention.

In Defense of Siddiqui

Siddiqui’s lawyer, Elaine Whitfield Sharp, refutes most of the government’s story and argues that her client was “set up,” according to NPR. She says that the United States had in fact held Siddiqui in custody at the covert Bagram Air Base prison in Afghanistan for the past five years, being transferred to New York only recently. Only recently, she suspects, did the U.S. plant incriminating evidence on her in Afghanistan, and never did she try to shoot American officials.

Whitfield Sharp has complained about the medical state of her client, who she says is “traumatized and confused,” according to NPR, and may even suffer from Stockholm syndrome.

Also, Afghan police say that they refused the request by the U.S. authorities to hand over Siddiqui. According to the Afghan police, the U.S. troops, “thinking that she had explosives and would attack them as a suicide bomber, shot her and took her.”

The entire affair has sparked condemnation from human rights groups, and among Pakistanis. According to Reuters, “Protests have taken place in Karachi, Lahore and even outside the court in Manhattan where Siddiqui appeared. The anger is directed as much, if not more, at the Pakistani government and its agencies who are accused of handing over Siddiqui to the United States as at Washington itself.” Human rights groups are concerned not only with the treatment of the Siddiqui, but with other terrorism suspects possibly being treated the same way in places like Bagram Air Base.

Opinion & Analysis: Did she, or didn’t she?

An editorial from Arab News says, “As cock-and-bull stories go, this doubtless takes the cake.” Arab News is highly skeptical of the U.S. government’s story, saying that the facts don’t add up: “This is yet another instance of how, in their zeal to fight terror, the US authorities are undermining the ideals and values that once inspired America’s Founding Fathers. More important, they are trampling on everything that the world has come to view as sacrosanct, from the rule of law to human rights to a fair trial, as enshrined in the UN Human Rights Charter and Geneva Conventions.”

But New York’s Daily News takes a different point of view. The newspaper stresses the importance of maintaining national security—pointing to the list of New York targets she allegedly carried—and does not want to simply let her off the hook. “We'll believe that when we see it. We’re more inclined to think she’s upholding family traditions, having once been wed to the nephew of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. And we know she had no interest in visiting New York as a tourist.”

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