'Lady Al-Qaida' Awaits Sentencing For Afghan Attack

Women in Islamabad, Pakistan, protest conviction of Aafia Siddiqui i i

In a Feb. 21 rally in Islamabad, Pakistan, women supporters of Pakistani religious party Jamaat-e-Islami hold posters of accused al-Qaida associate Aafia Siddiqui, demanding her release. A federal court in New York convicted Siddiqui of attempted murder of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Anjum Naveed/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Anjum Naveed/AP
Women in Islamabad, Pakistan, protest conviction of Aafia Siddiqui

In a Feb. 21 rally in Islamabad, Pakistan, women supporters of Pakistani religious party Jamaat-e-Islami hold posters of accused al-Qaida associate Aafia Siddiqui, demanding her release. A federal court in New York convicted Siddiqui of attempted murder of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Anjum Naveed/AP

Aafia Siddiqui was known as the most wanted woman in the world. The FBI said she was an al-Qaida operative, a fixer for the terrorist organization while she was a graduate student in the U.S.

The Pakistani neuroscientist, 37, was arrested in Afghanistan in July 2008. Now, she sits in a New York jail after her conviction in early February on charges of attempted murder and armed assault against American military officers.

But nothing about Siddiqui's story is simple.

According to U.S. officials, Siddiqui was on the run from 2003 to 2008. She was on the FBI's most-wanted list for almost five years.

Then Afghan authorities found her loitering outside a provincial governor's compound in Afghanistan in July 2008. They thought she might be a suicide bomber, so they arrested her.

What happened next led her to stand trial in a federal court in New York. Prosecutors said that she grabbed an M-4 rifle and fired on the U.S. troops and FBI agents who came into the Afghan police station to question her. They returned fire and she was shot in the abdomen.

Her lawyers said she never grabbed the rifle.

FBI file photo of Aafia Saddiqui

This undated file photo released by the FBI shows Siddiqui, who was on the FBI's most-wanted list for almost five years until her arrest in 2008. FBI via AP hide caption

itoggle caption FBI via AP

Siddiqui's story before her arrest is even more mysterious. She says she went missing for those five years because she had been in U.S. and Pakistani custody and that she was tortured at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

U.S. sources tell NPR none of that is true. They say they have been tracking her on and off for years.

But her whereabouts weren't at issue in court. The trial focused on the shooting and whether Siddiqui, once a student at MIT and Brandeis University, was competent to stand trial.

During the two-week-long trial, Siddiqui was ejected from the courtroom for outbursts and one observer was arrested.

In the end, a Manhattan jury found her guilty on Feb. 3 of seven counts against her, including attempted murder. She faces life in prison, and sentencing is scheduled for May.

It is unclear whether she will appeal. Meanwhile, the mystery of what happened during those five years remains unsolved.

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