U.S. News

Pakistani woman called mentally unfit for U.S. trial

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Pakistani woman suspected of links to al Qaeda and charged with trying to kill American interrogators in Afghanistan is mentally unfit to stand trial, according to her psychiatric evaluation.

Aafia Siddiqui, 36, is “not currently competent to proceed as a result of her mental disease, which renders her unable to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against her,” U.S. District Judge Richard Berman said on Monday while reporting the results of the evaluation.

Berman ordered a hearing on Wednesday to discuss how to proceed with Siddiqui’s case, including the possible use of medication to treat her.

Prosecutors say Siddiqui, a U.S.-trained neuroscientist, while detained for questioning in Afghanistan, grabbed a U.S. warrant officer’s rifle and fired it at the interrogation team, which included two FBI agents. The warrant officer then shot her with his pistol.

She was brought to the United States to face charges of attempted murder and assault.

Her arraignment was delayed after Siddiqui, a practicing Muslim, refused to submit to a strip search or cooperate with prison doctors.

Defense lawyers and prosecutors both argued the frail-looking Siddiqui should undergo a psychiatric evaluation.

Human rights groups had declared Siddiqui missing for five years before the incident in July, when she was arrested outside the governor’s office in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province.

U.S. officials say Afghan police found documents in her handbag on making explosives, excerpts from the book “Anarchist’s Arsenal” and descriptions of New York City landmarks.

In 2004, the FBI called Siddiqui an “al Qaeda operative and facilitator who posed a clear and present danger to America.”

Her lawyers have said she may be a victim of torture and believe she was kidnapped with her children in March 2003 in Karachi, Pakistan, and secretly held in custody for the past five years by either Pakistani or U.S. authorities.

A five-member delegation of Pakistani parliamentarians last month met Siddiqui for three hours at a prison medical facility in Fort Worth, Texas, where her psychiatric evaluation took place. They said she should be released and repatriated to Pakistan.

Editing by Daniel Trotta and Eric Beech