Asia Crisis

Pakistan demands access to al Qaeda suspect in U.S.

KARACHI, Aug 5 (Reuters) - Pakistan has demanded consular access to a Pakistani woman with suspected links to al Qaeda who is due to be arraigned in New York on Tuesday on charges of attempting to murder U.S. troops and FBI agents in Afghanistan.

The New York Times newspaper said Aafia Siddiqui, a U.S.-trained neuroscientist, has links to at least two of 14 suspected high-level al Qaeda members held at Guantanamo Bay.

The story of her arrest is one of the strangest to emerge since the Sept. 11, 2001 al Qaeda attacks on the United States.

Siddiqui was brought to the United States on Monday and is due to be formally accused before a New York court of trying to kill U.S. soldiers and FBI agents at an Afghan police station last month, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

Pakistan's ambassador to Washington made the request for consular access on Monday, Pakistan's state-run news agency said.

Afghan police arrested Siddiqui after becoming suspicious of her behaviour outside the provincial governor's compound in the city of Ghazni on July 17, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

Police found documents describing bomb-making and excerpts from the book, Anarchist's Arsenal, as well as papers describing U.S. landmarks and substances sealed in bottles and jars.

The next day, U.S. soldiers and two FBI agents arrived at the Afghan police station where Siddiqui was being held.

"The personnel entered a second floor meeting room, unaware that Siddiqui was being held there, unsecured, behind a curtain," the department said on its Web site. A U.S. warrant officer placed his rifle on the ground, next to the curtain.

"Shortly after the meeting began, the captain heard a woman yell from the curtain and, when he turned, saw Siddiqui holding the warrant officer's rifle and pointing it directly at the captain," the Justice Department statement said.

"The interpreter seated closest to Siddiqui lunged at her and pushed the rifle away as Siddiqui pulled the trigger. Siddiqui fired at least two shots but no one was hit. The warrant officer returned fire with a 9 mm service pistol and fired approximately two rounds at Siddiqui's torso, hitting her at least once."

Despite being shot, Siddiqui continued to struggle and struck and kicked the officer while shouting in English that she wanted to kill all Americans and then passed out, the statement said.


Afghan police in Ghazni however, told a different story. They 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.

Siddiqui and her three children disappeared from her parents' home in the Pakistani port city of Karachi in 2003 and Pakistani human rights groups said they believed the woman had been held at Bagram, the main U.S. base in Afghanistan.

U.S. officials believe Siddiqui was in Pakistan until her arrest in neighbouring Afghanistan, the New York Times said.

Family members said Siddiqui was raped and tortured at Bagram, although they did not say how they knew this.

"Her rape and torture is a crime beyond anything she was ever accused of," Fauzia Siddiqui told reporters in Karachi.

"For a long time, my family and I have kept our silence because we knew she was innocent and also based on threats of severe consequences if we spoke," she said. Fauzia Siddiqui said her sister would not receive a fair trial.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) demanded the Pakistani government intervene and secure her release.

"Dr. Aafia's case is a reminder of the grave injustice done to God knows how many Pakistanis in U.S. detention facilities in Bagram in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere, who have been listed as missing" an HRCP statement said. (Additional reporting by Imtiaz Shah in Karachi and Sher Ahmad in Ghazni; Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by Paul Tait)