Aafia Siddiqui ’95, a Pakistani neuroscientist accused of trying to kill American soldiers and FBI agents in Afghanistan, has been found competent to stand trial by a federal judge in Manhattan.
The judge, Richard M. Berman of U.S. District Court, said in a 36-page decision issued on Wednesday that Siddiqui “has a rational as well as a factual understanding of the proceedings against her” and could assist her lawyers with her defense. He set a trial date for Oct. 19.
In a competency hearing this month, psychological experts testified differently as to whether Siddiqui was suffering from a genuine mental disorder, as her lawyer argued, or was faking symptoms of mental illness, as prosecutors contended.
Siddiqui, 37, who studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brandeis University, repeatedly interrupted the hearing with occasionally heated outbursts. She declared that she was “not psychotic,” denied shooting anyone, and complained of being strip-searched.
“I want to make peace with the United States of America,” she said at one point. “I’m not an enemy. I never was.”
Records introduced in court showed that Siddiqui had also spoken of having visions of flying infants, a dog in her cell and children visiting her.
A psychologist retained by the defense found that she had a delusional disorder and was not competent for trial. After the hearing, her lawyer, Dawn M. Cardi, called her outbursts “an example of her mental illness.”
Two government-retained psychiatrists said Siddiqui was competent to stand trial. A prosecutor, Christopher L. LaVigne, told the judge that she was malingering in an “attempt to avoid responsibility” for her crimes.
Siddiqui was taken into custody last July in Afghanistan after she was found loitering outside a provincial governor’s compound with suspicious items in her handbag, the authorities have said. The items included handwritten notes that referred to a “mass casualty attack,” and listed landmarks like the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty, an indictment says.
While she was being held, the indictment charges, she picked up an unsecured rifle and fired at least two shots toward a member of an American team of FBI agents and military personnel who were about to question her. No one was hit. She was charged with attempted murder and other charges, and has pleaded not guilty.
Cardi was unavailable for comment on the ruling. Yusill Scribner, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office, had no comment.
In his ruling, Berman said the defense had failed to meet its burden of proving that Siddiqui was incompetent to stand trial. He suggested that there was some evidence to support the contention that she was malingering.
During the hearing, he wrote, Siddiqui’s demeanor had been initially “polite and appropriate,” but it “changed almost instantaneously” after a prosecutor called attention to the fact that there had been no outbursts from Siddiqui. Immediately thereafter, Berman wrote, she “became much more loquacious, outspoken and difficult in the courtroom.”