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Pakistani Scientist Charged with Trying to Kill US Authorities in Afghanistan


A Pakistani scientist is charged with trying to kill U.S. military and civilian authorities in Afghanistan. VOA Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, human rights groups say the U.S. government secretly detained Aafia Siddiqui for five years before bringing the charges.

The 36-year-old neuroscientist was arraigned before a federal judge in New York City, Tuesday, on charges of attempted murder and assault. She faces up to 20 years in prison on each charge if convicted.

Siddiqui did not enter a plea at her arraingment. A bail hearing is set for Monday.

Siddiqui was shot and wounded in Afghanistan last month during a confrontation with U.S. intelligence officials who wanted to question her about alleged ties to the terrorist group al-Qaida.

The federal indictment against Siddiqui says she was stopped outside the provincial governor's compound in the central Ghanzi province on July 17. Prosecutors say Afghan police found chemical liquids and gels in her handbag along with recipes for explosives and chemical weapons as well as documents describing various landmarks in the United States, including New York City.

As U.S. military and civilian investigators prepared to question her the following day, the criminal complaint says Siddiqui grabbed a rifle and pointed it at a U.S. soldier. An interpreter pushed the rifle aside as she fired at least twice, but no one was hit. A U.S. officer returned fire with a handgun, hitting her at least once in the torso.

The indictment says that despite being shot, Siddiqui struggled with officials trying to subdue her, hitting and kicking them while shouting in English that she wanted to kill Americans.

Siddiqui's family and the human rights group Amnesty International believe the American-educated biologist was secretly detained by U.S. forces at the Bagram Air Base shortly after she disappeared in 2003 while visiting her parents' home in Karachi with her three children.

Iqbal Haider is the Secretary General of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. He told a news conference in Karachi that U.S. officials have brought what he calls "idiotic charges" against innocent, educated people.

"This is [a] mockery of justice," said Iqbal Haider. "This is absolutely outright victimization."

Haider also believes Siddiqui was secretly detained by U.S. forces and questions why it took five years to bring charges against her.

"My contention is very simple," he said. "If this was a case that Aafia Siddiqui possessed so many chemical weapons, then why this delay of five years."

U.S. President George Bush has confirmed the existence of secret detention facilities outside the United States. But a senior U.S. intelligence official told the New York Times that Siddiqui was not previously in U.S. custody.

Shortly after her 2003 disappearance, the FBI issued an alert saying her whereabouts were unknown. The agency said it wanted to question her though it had no information connecting her to specific terrorist activities.

A year later, the FBI accused Siddiqui of assisting al-Qaida operatives sent to the United States by Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the suspected mastermind of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

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