NEW YORK: A US-trained Pakistani scientist accused of helping al-Qaida and shooting at FBI agents may be forced to appear in court on Monday against her will.
Dr Aafia Siddiqui may have to appear by video or in person in federal court in Manhattan at a hearing to decide if she’s competent to stand trial, defence attorney Dawn Cardi said.
Siddiqui has reported seeing her children in her jail cell and has stated she died after being strip-searched.
Prosecutors accuse Siddiqui of having ties to al-Qaida and say she grabbed a US Army officer’s M-4 rifle in Afghanistan, pointed it at an Army captain and cried ‘Allahu akbar,’ Arabic for ‘God is great.’ They say she fired at US soldiers and FBI agents before she was shot and wounded by an Army officer.
A defence attorney has disputed that account, saying the US government has the facts wrong.
Siddiqui, a specialist in neuroscience who trained at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brandeis University, appeared in court twice after she was brought to the US last August but has refused to attend proceedings since then. She’s charged with attempted murder and assault.
US District Judge Richard Berman entered a not guilty plea for her.
The judge signed an order days ago permitting authorities to take her to court against her will, Cardi said.
‘Her choice is not to come,’ Cardi said. ‘I don’t want her traumatised any more than she has to be, being strip-searched and all.’
Mental health professionals who have evaluated Siddiqui over the last year will be questioned by lawyers on both sides during the competency hearing. A trial is set for October 19.
The government is expected to highlight the conclusions by three experts that Siddiqui, 37, is exaggerating psychological symptoms, perhaps to avoid trial.
Cardi likely will point to findings by a physician and another expert, psychologist L. Thomas Kucharski, who has said Siddiqui suffers from delusional disorder and depression and is unfit for trial.
Psychologists for both sides have said Siddiqui has reported seeing some of her children in her cell and seemed particularly disturbed by strip searches required before any court appearance.
The psychologists wrote in court documents put in the public court record late last week that Siddiqui repeatedly stated she was dead after one strip search and that she said she was convinced video of the search was distributed on the Internet.
The prosecution’s Gregory B. Saathoff, an associate professor in psychiatric medicine at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, said Siddiqui’s verbal reports of hallucinations of seeing her children in her cell were quite dramatic. But he said her unemotional references to her own death were inconsistent and not accompanied by physical symptoms of depression one might expect, such as changes in appetite, weight, sleep and hygiene.
Saathoff wrote that Siddiqui had expressed to Pakistani officials who met with her in jail a desire to return directly to Pakistan but she had a different answer when he asked her about the statements. He said she told him: ‘Why do you bring up Pakistan? This world is all the same. There are worse places than this place. I just want to be put in some prison and be forgotten. It’s better for everybody.’
Cardi said authorities don’t know the whereabouts of two of Siddiqui’s three children. The third child is living with her sister in Pakistan.