U.S. News

Neuroscientist tells NY trial held in secret prison

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S.-trained Pakistani neuroscientist charged with shooting at her U.S. interrogators in Afghanistan yelled at jurors during the first day of her trial in New York on Tuesday, saying she had been held in a secret prison.

Aafia Siddiqui in a combination image. REUTERS/FBI/Handout

Aafia Siddiqui, 37, had to be led out of the courtroom after disrupting the testimony of one of the witnesses.

She is charged with grabbing a U.S. warrant officer’s rifle while she was detained for questioning in July in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province and firing it at FBI agents and military personnel.

None of them were injured but Siddiqui, who the U.S. government has accused of links with al Qaeda, was shot. She is charged with attempted murder, assault and other crimes and faces life in prison if convicted.

The U.S. government has previously linked Siddiqui to al Qaeda but the charges against her do not mention the group and prosecutors did not mention terrorism or al Qaeda during opening statements.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jenna Dabbs told jurors Siddiqui was taken into custody by Afghan police in July because she was carrying containers of unidentified chemicals and notes referring to mass-casualty attacks and New York landmarks such as the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street and the Brooklyn Bridge.

Siddiqui, who is charged only with the shooting incident, wore a white veil and sat slumped with her head in her arms throughout most of the proceeding in federal court. She interrupted and suggested that she had been “given magazines to copy” to write the notes.

“Since I’ll never get a chance to speak, if you were in a secret prison ... where children were tortured,” Siddiqui yelled before being led from the courtroom. “This is no list of targets against New York. I was never planning to bomb it.”

Human rights groups and previous lawyers for Siddiqui have said she may have been secretly held at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan during the time leading up to the shooting incident, when her whereabouts were unknown.

Family members in Pakistan have said they believe Siddiqui, who lived in the United States between 1991 and 2002, was raped and tortured at Bagram. But there was no mention of secret prisons by Siddiqui’s defense lawyers on Tuesday.

After Siddiqui’s arrest by Afghan police, U.S. soldiers were called in to question her. They were taken into a room that was partitioned by a heavy curtain and were unaware she also was in the room, Dabbs said.

Dabbs said Siddiqui grabbed a rifle when it was put down on the floor by a U.S. warrant officer.

As an interpreter for the U.S. military tackled Siddiqui and sought to restrain her, she called out, “You will die by my blood” and “death to America,” Dabbs told the court.

In the defense’s opening statement, attorney Charles Swift offered a different version of events, saying the only bullets and gun residue found on the scene came from the shots fired at Siddiqui and that she had never open fire.

The trial is expected to last several weeks.

Reporting by Edith Honan; Editing by Michelle Nichols and Bill Trott