Pakistani Woman's Arrest Prompts Questions Aafia Siddiqui has been on the FBI's Most Wanted list since 2003. They say she had links to al-Qaida, but she didn't resurface until her arrest in Afghanistan last month. Now she faces attempted murder charges in the U.S., and NPR has learned more charges are on the way.
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Pakistani Woman's Arrest Prompts Questions

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Pakistani Woman's Arrest Prompts Questions

Pakistani Woman's Arrest Prompts Questions

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

For the past five years, 36-year-old Aafia Siddiqui has been on the FBI's most wanted list. The FBI wanted to question her because of alleged links to al-Qaida. Last month, Siddiqui was arrested in Afghanistan in unclear circumstances. She's now in New York facing charges of attempted murder.

NPR's Dina Temple-Raston has been following this and it's turning out to be quite a complicated story.

Dina, first, what have you learned about Aafia Siddiqui's background?

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, her early background is fairly straightforward. She was from a well-off family in Pakistan. Her father trained as a medical doctor in England and he sent his three children to the United States for an education. Her brother is an architect living in Houston. Her sister is a Harvard-trained neurologist working in Baltimore or was working in Baltimore until recently. And Aafia herself went to MIT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

BLOCK: So what brought her to the FBI's attention?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, the FBI says that they started watching Siddiqui and her husband in July of 2001. That's when they were living in Boston, and her husband apparently had used a debit card to buy night vision goggles, some body armor and military manuals off the Internet. And when the FBI questioned him about it, he said it was all for some sort of big game hunting and he couldn't buy that kind of stuff very easily in Pakistan. And they never apparently questioned Siddiqui about it. They turned their attention on Siddiqui after Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was arrested. You remember, he's the man who's accused of masterminding the 9/11 attacks.

He apparently named her as an al-Qaida operative shortly after his arrest in March 2003, and then she seemed to have disappeared. She was in Pakistan with her three children. Apparently she was going to go visit an uncle in Islamabad and she just simply disappeared. Nobody knows where she went.

BLOCK: So this was in 2003 that she disappears. When did the FBI pick up her trail again?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Apparently not long ago, on July 17th, just a little more than -a little less than a month ago in Eastern Afghanistan in a place called Ghazni. That's where these provincial police - or maybe national security officials, it's not quite clear - had stopped Siddiqui who was apparently with a teenage boy outside the local governor's compound. And apparently she looked suspicious. They searched her handbag. And the complaint says that they found documents that had to do with making explosives, and they found some chemical substances in glass jars although the FBI hasn't said what was in those jars.

But the reason she's facing charges actually is because of something that happened after all of that. The complaint said that she was about to be questioned by U.S. officials and she picked up an M4 rifle and fired at an American soldier. Another soldier fired at her with a pistol and wounded her in the abdomen.

BLOCK: Now, FBI Director Robert Mueller has called Aafia Siddiqui an al-Qaida operative and facilitator. But none of that appears in the charges that she's facing right now. Why is that?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Exactly. Well, not yet. So far the charges are focused on this particular Afghanistan shooting incident. The FBI and U.S. attorneys are keeping this very simple. They started by getting her to a U.S. court by accusing her of attempted murder.

But our sources are telling us that there's more in the pipelines. Specifically, a federal grand jury in New York right now is hearing testimony about possible terrorism financing charges. And officials close to the case expect those charges will get added to her indictment when she goes before a judge again on September 3rd.

BLOCK: Now, the lawyer for Aafia Siddiqui tells a very different story. She claims that her client has been in U.S. custody much longer, that she was held for years and, the allegation is, tortured by American forces in Afghanistan, at Bagram Air Force Base. What have you learned about that?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, everyone I'm talking to on the government side - FBI, CIA, Director of National Intelligence, Army intelligence - is saying both on the record and on background that Siddiqui was not in U.S. custody before she was arrested last month. You know, intelligence sources though won't rule out that the Pakistani government may have been holding her, unbeknownst to the Americans. And clearly something has happened to Siddiqui over the past five years. She just doesn't seem normal. She seems very jittery, as if she's been traumatized.

BLOCK: Okay, NPR's Dina Temple-Raston, thanks very much.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome.

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