The case of Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui

August 14, 2008

Five years after she vanished from her parents’ home in Karachi along with her three children, Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia  Siddiqui appeared in a New York court last week accused of trying to kill U.S. officers in Afghanistan

Accounts of her arrest and the shooting incident differ. 

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Siddiqui, 36, was arrested outside the governor’s office in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province on July 17 after police searched her handbag and found documents on making explosives, excerpts from the book “Anarchist’s Arsenal” and descriptions of New York City landmarks, federal prosecutors said in a statement.

The next day when U.S. soldiers and FBI agents went to question  the U.S.-trained neuroscientist, she attacked them, the Justice Department said in a statement. She fired two shots using the rifle of one of the U.S.. army officers but nobody was hit. The officer then fired back at her, using his service pistol and at least one shot hit her, the Justice Department said.

Afghan police in Ghazni however, told a different story, according to a report filed by Reuters. Afghan police said officers searched Siddiqui after reports of her suspicious behaviour and found maps of Ghazni, including one of the governor’s house, and arrested her along with a teenage boy.

U.S. troops requested the woman be handed over to them, but the police refused, a senior Ghazni police officer said.

U.S. soldiers then proceeded to disarm the Afghan police at which point Siddiqui approached the Americans complaining of mistreatment by the police. The U.S. troops, the officer said, “thinking that she had explosives and would attack them as a suicide bomber, shot her and and took her”. The boy remained in police custody.

 Whatever the circumstance, Siddiqui was then flown to New York where she appeared in a wheelchair, looking frail and, according to her lawyers, in urgent need of medical attention.

The case bears recounting, not just because Siddiqui is a MIT  educated mother of three, but because it has roused strong passions especially in Pakistan.

Since the time of her disappearance in 2003  human rights groups have alleged Siddiqui had been taken into secret custody, one of thousands of Pakistanis who had disappeared in the U.S.-led war on al Qaeda and Taliban. They said they believed she was in Bagram, the U.S. air base in Afghanistan.

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U.S. authorities strongly denied Siddiqui was in custody, and according to the New York Times,  military and intelligence officials believed her to be in Pakistan until her arrest in Afghanistan last month.

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.

There are online petitions seeking Siddiqui’s release and others warning this is only the tip of the iceberg and that there are many others at risk. Comments on blogs reflect  anger, shame and helplessness. to undo what many see as a terrible wrong done to her,

On Wednesday, the Pakistani Foreign Office said it had protested against the detention of Siddiqui’s three children and demanded their repatriation.
 

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