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U.S. details indictment against Pakistani scientist

Authorities say Aafia Siddiqui had notes mentioning a 'mass casualty attack.'

September 03, 2008|Josh Meyer | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A U.S.- educated female Pakistani neuroscientist suspected of links to Al Qaeda who was captured in Afghanistan in July was carrying handwritten notes referring to a "mass casualty attack" and famous locations in New York, including the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty, according to a federal indictment authorities made public Tuesday.

The notes found in the possession of Aafia Siddiqui, 36, also listed other U.S. locations, including Wall Street and the Brooklyn Bridge, said the indictment handed up by a federal grand jury in New York.

Siddiqui, a mother of three who lived in the United States from 1991 to 2002, also allegedly had notes that referred to the construction of "dirty bombs" and chemical and biological weapons. They discussed various ways to attack "enemies," including destroying reconnaissance drones and using underwater bombs and gliders, the indictment said.

The legal filing also said Siddiqui possessed a computer thumb drive that contained correspondence referring to attacks by certain cells. And it charged that other documents on the thumb drive discussed recruitment and training.

One FBI official said there was no evidence of a credible threat of a terrorist attack in anything taken from Siddiqui.

Nevertheless, the disclosures ratcheted up the growing mystery surrounding Siddiqui, a diminutive woman whom some U.S. authorities have described as one of Al Qaeda's most wanted suspects and one of the few women to penetrate the terrorist network's inner circle.

In 2004, for instance, Siddiqui was identified by top FBI and Justice Department officials as an "Al Qaeda operative and facilitator who posed a clear and present danger to America."

Later, authorities linked Siddiqui to alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and said she married his nephew Ammar Baluchi, who is in custody at Guantanamo Bay with Mohammed on charges of helping finance the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Some U.S. officials have alleged that Siddiqui, who has a biology degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a doctorate from Brandeis University near Boston, is connected to Al Qaeda's weapons of mass destruction program.

But on Tuesday, no one from the Justice Department or FBI would comment on the case, or whether they thought Siddiqui was involved in any terrorist activity in the U.S.

Justice Department officials say Siddiqui was detained in Afghanistan on July 17 while acting suspiciously outside a provincial governor's home. She was with a boy who was later identified as her 11-year-old son Ahmed.

A day later, Siddiqui was taken to a police holding area, where she grabbed an unsecured military rifle and opened fire on a small group of U.S. soldiers, interpreters and FBI agents who had come to question her, according to the indictment and an earlier criminal complaint.

One of the soldiers returned fire and injured Siddiqui, who was treated and later flown from Afghanistan to New York to face criminal charges.

Last month, looking gaunt and frail, she appeared in court and was ordered held without bail on charges of attempted murder of U.S. officers and employees and related assault charges. Prosecutors also alleged that before opening fire, Siddiqui yelled "Allahu akbar!" (God is great) and stated her intent to kill Americans.

The indictment made public Tuesday contained similar charges, and authorities said Siddiqui faced life in prison if convicted on all charges. She is scheduled to be arraigned in federal court Thursday.

On Tuesday, a lawyer for Siddiqui's family scoffed at the indictment's claims that a 90-pound woman tried to take on and kill U.S. authorities, or that she was involved in a terrorist plot.

"I think it's interesting that they make all these allegations about the dirty bombs and other items she supposedly had, but they haven't charged her with anything relating to terrorism," Elaine Whitfield Sharp said. "I would urge people to consider her as innocent unless the government proves otherwise."

Sharp said that in recent conversations with her client, Siddiqui said she had been held incommunicado and in custody over the last five years, not working with Al Qaeda.

"She is a mother of three who has been through several years of detention, whose interrogators were Americans, who endured treatment fairly characterized as horrendous," Sharp said.

U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials have denied that Siddiqui was in U.S. custody, but they have said little about the case or about what they might know of Siddiqui's whereabouts over the last five years.

Family members said she got into a taxi in Karachi, Pakistan, with her three young children in March 2003, and that they had not seen or heard from her since.

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josh.meyer@latimes.com

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