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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Brandeis graduate convicted in terror plot, appeals case

Published: February 17, 2012
Section: News

Lawyers for Brandeis graduate Aafia Siddiqui PhD ’01 have appealed her conviction, saying that the testimony the 39-year-old woman gave during her trial was involuntary because she was not mentally stable at the time. In 2010 she was sentenced to 86 years in prison for opening fire on U.S. soldiers in a police station where she was being interrogated. Officials believe she assisted al-Qaida by laundering money and Liberian diamonds and by buying illegal high-technology weaponry.

Siddiqui is a graduate of MIT with a B.S. in biology who later studied cognitive neuroscience at Brandeis. She taught a General Biology Lab, which is required for pre-med and similar majors.

She finished her dissertation on “learning through imitation” in 2001. She lived in the Boston area before returning to Pakistan with her husband and children, citing difficulty living as a Muslim in America after 9/11.

In 2003, she sent an e-mail to a former Brandeis professor about returning to work in the United States, but a few months later was accused, according to the FBI, of being a “courier of blood diamonds and a financial fixer for al-Qaida.” According to a dossier prepared by U.N. investigators for the 9/11 Commission, Siddiqui was one of six alleged al-Qaida members who bought blood diamonds in Liberia immediately prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Her second husband was the nephew of one of the organizers of 9/11.

She and her three children left Karachi five days later, ostensibly for the airport, but disappeared. She is believed to have been arrested by Pakistani authorities and may have been handed over to the FBI. On April 21, 2003, a United States official told media outlets that Siddiqui was in Pakistani custody but retracted the statement the next day. Whether she was in Pakistani custody from 2003 to 2008 is unsure. Reports differ, some claiming she worked at the Karachi Institute of Technology, others that she was detained by the FBI.

In 2008, Siddiqui was arrested by Afghan police, who found a number of documents in both English and Urdu that could have been used to create bombs inside her bag, as well as various chemicals, says a later complaint filed against her in the Southern District New York court.

The following day, says American authorities, a group of United States military personnel arrived to interrogate her, and were attacked when Siddiqui she took the warrant officer’s loaded rifle from the floor When Pakistani senators visited her later, Siddiqui asserted that though she had tried to escape, she had not shot at the soldiers, and that after seeing she was unsecured, they shot her in the torso.

During her initial trial, Siddiqui was repeatedly disruptive and said that she would not cooperate with her lawyers because she believed the trial to be “a sham.” The trial had been previously delayed in order to perform psychiatric evaluations. Though doctors initially thought she suffered from chronic depression, they later amended their reports and said that she was faking her mental illness. A judge decided that though she may suffer some mental illness, she was well enough to stand trial.

Her lawyers, whom she has repeatedly attempted to fire, assert that the testimony she gave in her first trial was invalid because Siddiqui was not rational at the time. Prosecutors maintain that she understood the questions asked her at the trial.

Siddiqui herself has denied that she is mentally ill and insists she be present and allowed to testify.