September 3, 2008 in Nation/World

Terrorism suspect had notes on ‘mass casualty attack’

Pakistani woman also had lists of U.S. sites, indictment shows
By Josh Meyer Los Angeles Times
 
File Associated Press photo

Aafia Siddiqui, a possible Al-Qaida associate, is seen July 17 in custody in Ghazni City, Afghanistan.
(Full-size photo)

WASHINGTON – A U.S.-educated female Pakistani neuroscientist suspected of links to al-Qaida captured in Afghanistan in July was carrying handwritten notes referring to a “mass casualty attack” on famous locations in New York such as 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, the Brooklyn Bridge and Plum Island, the indictment handed up by a federal grand jury in the Southern Eastern District of New York, or Manhattan, said.

Siddiqui, a mother of three who lived in the United States from 1991 to 2002, also allegedly had in her possession notes that referred to the construction of “dirty bombs,” along with chemical and biological weapons.

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 whom some U.S. authorities have described as one of al-Qaida’s most-wanted suspects, and one of the few women to be included in the terror network’s inner circle.

In 2004, for instance, Siddiqui was identified by top FBI and Justice Department officials as an “al-Qaida operative and facilitator who posed a clear and present danger to America.”

Later, authorities linked Siddiqui to 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and said she married his nephew, Ammar al-Baluchi, who is now in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, along with Mohammed on charges of helping finance the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

Some U.S. officials have alleged that Siddiqui, who has a biology degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Ph.D. from Brandeis University in 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 believed Siddiqui was involved in some kind of plot to launch an attack on U.S. soil.

Justice Department officials say Siddiqui was detained in Afghanistan on July 18 while acting suspiciously outside a provincial governor’s palace in the company of a young boy later identified as her 11-year-old son Ahmed. Siddiqui was then taken to a police holding area, where she grabbed an unsecured M-4 military rifle and opened fire on a small group of U.S. soldiers, translators 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 hospitalized 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 Siddiqui yelled “Allah akbar!” and stated her intent to kill Americans before opening fire.

Tuesday’s indictment contained similar charges, and authorities said Siddiqui faces life in prison if convicted on all of the charges. She is scheduled to be arraigned in federal court on Thursday.

On Tuesday, one of Siddiqui’s defense lawyers 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,” said Elaine Whitfield Sharp. “I would urge people to consider her as innocent unless the government proves otherwise.”

Sharp also said that in recent conversations with her client, Siddiqui said that she has been held incommunicado and in custody over the past five years, not working in league with al-Qaida.

“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.


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