NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S.-trained Pakistani neuroscientist who faces trial for the attempted murder of U.S. interrogators in Afghanistan will be represented by lawyers paid for by Pakistan, a U.S. judge ruled on Wednesday.
In an unusual step, Pakistan sought to send in a team of lawyers to help represent Aafia Siddiqui, who is charged with grabbing a U.S. warrant officer’s rifle in mid-2008 while she was detained for questioning in Afghanistan and firing it at FBI agents and military personnel who were not hit.
She was shot and wounded in response, according to the American version. A senior Afghan officer has said she was shot by U.S. forces who took her for a suicide bomber.
U.S. District Judge Richard Berman ruled the lawyers financed by Pakistan can join Siddiqui’s defense at a Manhattan federal court hearing over the loud objections of Siddiqui, who was recently ruled fit to stand trial after a special hearing was held to determine if she was delusional.
Siddiqui has previously said she does not want any of the lawyers, including her current court-appointed attorney.
“It would provide Dr. Siddiqui with her strongest defense,” said Berman, noting if the lawyers were dropped Siddiqui may have to defend herself at trial, which was delayed from October to November 2. The judge also ordered jail officials find alternative security measures instead of strip-searching her.
Parliamentarians from Pakistan who have visited Siddiqui have called for her to be repatriated to Pakistan.
Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani met with Siddiqui’s sister at the prime minister’s residence last month and assured Pakistan would seek Siddiqui’s release from U.S. detention and had approved $2 million for her defense, Pakistani media reported.
After Wednesday’s hearing, one of Siddiqui’s new lawyers, Linda Moreno, said Pakistan had retained her.
“Siddiqui is a daughter of Pakistan,” she said.
Mystery surrounds Siddiqui’s case, including her whereabouts for five years before her arrest outside the governor’s office in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province.
Human rights groups and her previous lawyers said they believe she was secretly held at Bagram air base in Afghanistan. Family members in Pakistan have said they believe she was raped and tortured at Bagram.
According to her U.S. indictment, items found in Siddiqui’s handbag at the time of her arrest included notes on making explosives and chemical weapons as well as descriptions of a “mass casualty attack” that listed various New York City landmarks.
While the U.S. government has previously linked Siddiqui to al Qaeda, the charges against her do not mention the group and prosecutors have not said whether they intend to make any connection a part of the case.
The charges against her include attempted murder of U.S. officers and armed assault. She faces up to life in prison.
Editing by Daniel Trotta and Cynthia Osterman