Aafia Siddiqui ’95, missing since 2003, was arrested in Afghanistan and was arraigned Tuesday morning in Federal District Court in New York City. She is accused of picking up an assault rifle and shooting at U.S. personnel when she was in Afghan police custody.
During the Tuesday hearing, one of Siddiqui’s lawyers, Elizabeth M. Fink, told the judge that allegations that her 90-pound client had attacked Americans with a rifle were “patently absurd,” according to The New York Times.
Siddiqui, who received a biology degree from MIT, disappeared in Karachi, Pakistan in March of 2003, along with her three children.
Elaine Whitfield Sharp, who represents Siddiqui and her family, maintains Siddiqui has been secretly held prisoner in U.S. custody at the Bagram Theatre Internment Facility in Afghanistan since her disappearance, a charge that is flatly denied by the United States.
Arrested in Ghazni, Afghanistan
Siddiqui and a teenage boy were arrested by the Afghanistan National Police in Ghazni on July 17, according to the Justice Department’s criminal complaint. The complaint alleges that Siddiqui’s handbag contained a veritable panoply of terrorist paraphernalia, including “numerous documents describing the creation of explosives, of chemical weapons,” and of biological and radiological weapons; papers describing U.S. landmarks; excerpts from the Anarchist’s Arsenal; and “numerous chemical substances in gel and liquid form that were sealed in bottles and glass jars.”
A representative from the Ghazni Governor’s Office, Ismail Jahangir, speaking through a translator, said that Siddiqui was arrested because “they thought she had a bomb.” Jahangir said he did not know if she actually had a bomb, nor any details subsequent to the arrest.
Ghazni officials publicized her capture at a news conference on July 18.
Shootout at Afghan Police Station
After the press conference, a party of U.S. personnel conducted a meeting in the Afghan Police Station. Siddiqui, unrestrained, was present in the meeting room behind a yellow curtain, the U.S. sworn complaint alleges. The complaint states that she picked up a U.S. Army officer’s M-4 assault rifle and fired shots at U.S. personnel, missing them. (See excerpt from the complaint at right. For a full copy of the complaint, see http://www-tech.mit.edu/V128/N30/siddiqui/siddiqui-aafia-complaint.pdf.)
The complaint states that the officer returned fire with his pistol and wounded Siddiqui.
The injured Siddiqui was transferred to the hospital at Bagram Air Force Base, about 30 miles north of Kabul, according to Lt. Col. Rumi Nielson-Greene, a spokesperson for Combined Joint Task Force 101, which manages the Bagram base.
Nielson-Greene said that Siddiqui received “the exact same” medical treatment that a U.S. soldier would have received for her wounds, and “absolutely nothing was withheld.” Bagram’s hospital is the best medical facility in Afghanistan, Nielson-Greene said. Siddiqui was treated at Bagram for the next two weeks, and recovered to the point of being “ambulatory.”
On Monday, Aug. 4, Siddiqui was transported to New York City, at which time the Department of Justice released the complaint. Siddiqui was arraigned on Tuesday morning, and her next appearance in court is scheduled for Monday, Aug. 11.
Siddiqui’s New York lawyer, Fink, raised questions of Siddiqui’s treatment in an interview Wednesday. She said that Siddiqui had an “oozing wound” and had received neither antibiotics nor painkillers.
Sharp said that Siddiqui is “still very frail” and that Siddiqui said her wound has an odor to it, raising concerns about infection.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office had no comment on Siddiqui’s medical condition.
Fink is a public defender based in New York, who is working jointly with Sharp, who is Boston-based.
Sam Zarifi, the Asia-Pacific director for Amnesty International, said, “The idea that American troops were somehow overpowered and could only deal with her by shooting her — it’s certainly a very suspicious story. At the very least, it suggests gross incompetence and a violation of ‘Policing 101’” on the part of the American troops.
The New York Times characterized the Ghazni official, Jahangir, secondhand, as “challenging the American government’s version of events.”
Jahangir maintains that Siddiqui was in good condition and had not been shot, but that was when she was turned over to the Afghan police, not the United States. Jahangir represents the provincial governor, who was involved in the initial arrest of Siddiqui.
A person answering the phone at the Afghan Ministry of the Interior said that the woman and boy arrested in Ghazni were “under the custody of the Police.” When asked if she had been handed over to the U.S., he said “it is not true.”
“No, she was not shot. She was arrested. … She wanted to a suicide attack on the Governor of Ghazni [sic],” the person said.
Allegations of detainment
Sharp maintains that Siddiqui has been held by the United States at the Bagram Theatre Internment Facility at Bagram Air Base since her disappearance in 2003.
United States representatives fiercely deny this claim. “I can confirm, absolutely, I was here. She has never been in our detention facility,” said Nielson-Greene, the spokesperson at Bagram.
British journalist Yvonne Ridley has publicized the theory that Siddiqui has been held at Bagram for years; Ridley said that former Bagram prisoners report having heard a woman’s screams, and she has concluded that woman was Aafia Siddiqui.
Nielson-Greene describes these claims as “rumor and innuendo.” She said that a woman had been held at Bagram in 2003, but that woman, identified only as “Shafila,” was released.
Nielson-Greene said she was “certain — as certain as you can be — [that the woman] doesn’t match the description” of Aafia Siddiqui.
Reached on Monday, before news of the gunfight had been broken, a Defense Department spokesman in Washington declined to confirm or deny whether Siddiqui had ever been held at Bagram, saying that they do not normally answer questions regarding individuals at Bagram.
Siddiqui linked to terrorists
Between 2003 and 2008, the U.S. government has suggested links between Siddiqui and terrorism.
According to Sharp, Siddiqui’s lawyer, every past allegation of terrorist activities on Siddiqui’s part has been refuted.
Sharp notes that Siddiqui disappeared in 2003 just days after so-called “9/11 mastermind” Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was apprehended by U.S. authorities, suggesting he may have “given up” her name.
In March 2004, then-FBI Director Robert Mueller named Siddiqui as “an Al Qaeda operative and facilitator.”
In 2006, the U.S. declassified a biography of alleged terrorist Ammar al-Baluchi which claimed that he had married Siddiqui after she divorced the father of her children in 2003.
When Siddiqui disappeared in 2003, she was with her three children, aged seven years, five years, and six months. There is still no information on the whereabouts of those children.
Jahangir, the Ghazni official, said the teenage boy arrested with Siddiqui was a 12 year-old named “Ali.” That is not the name of Siddiqui’s eldest child, though her child would be 12 or 13 years old now.