NEW YORK (AFP) — A Pakistani neuroscientist and mother of three, who is accused of Al-Qaeda links and shooting at US officers in Afghanistan, was due to face a New York court Tuesday in a case sparking protests in her homeland.
Aafia Siddiqui, 36, a Pakistani national, was to be arraigned on two charges of attempted murder and assault before a magistrate judge in Manhattan.
US officials paint Siddiqui as a desperate, highly dangerous figure arrested in Afghanistan on July 17, 2007, in possession of bomb-making instructions.
During questioning she allegedly seized a US officer's M-4 rifle and opened fire on her captors. She missed, and was subdued after being shot and wounded by another serviceman.
She faces a maximum sentence of 20 years prison on each charge, if found guilty.
Siddiqui was also on a 2004 US list of suspects linked to Al-Qaeda.
However, supporters in Pakistan describe Siddiqui as victim of a miscarriage of justice.
They say Siddiqui, believed to have studied at the United States' elite Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has been held in secret US prisons for the last five years.
The mother of three disappeared from the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi in 2003 and featured on a list of US 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.
Fauzia Siddiqui added: "Aafia was tortured for five years until one day US 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."
Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, has lodged a request with US authorities for consular access to Siddiqui, the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan news agency reported.
The US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Michael Garcia, says that at the time of her arrest Siddiqui was carrying "documents describing the creation of explosives, as well as excerpts from the Anarchist's Arsenal.
"Siddiqui's papers included descriptions of various landmarks in the United States, including in New York city."
According to the complaint against her, Siddiqui pointed the US army issue M-4 rifle at a captain and said, "May the blood of (unintelligible) be directly on your (unintelligible, possibly head or hands)."
An interpreter pushed away the barrel as she pulled the trigger, according to the complaint, and she was then hit by at least one bullet from a warrant officer's 9mm pistol.
"Despite being shot, Siddiqui struggled with the officers when they tried to subdue her. She struck and kicked them while shouting in English that she wanted to kill Americans," the complaint reads.
Siddiqui is charged with one count of attempting to kill US officers and employees, and one count of assaulting US officers and employees, with a maximum 20 years in prison on each charge, Garcia said.
US officials have previously accused Aafia Siddiqui of links to Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network.
In 2002 she was tasked by alleged Al-Qaeda militant Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, 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 the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Both Ali and Mohammed are detained at the controversial US prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, facing charges of plotting the September 11, 2001 attacks.
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