|FILE- In this undated file photo originally released by the FBI on April 23, 2003, Aafia Siddiqui is shown. Jury selection began ,Wednesday, Jan 13, 2010, at federal court in New York where Siddiqui is on trial accused of grabbing a U.S. Army officer's rifle in Afghanistan in July 2008 and firing at U.S. soldiers and FBI agents. The U.S. trained neuroscientist has refused to work with her defense lawyers and lambasted the court since her case began last summer. (AP Photo/FBI)|
Reputed al-Qaida supporter taken from NY courtroom
NEW YORK—A U.S.-trained Pakistani scientist and reputed al-Qaida supporter punctuated the first day of her attempted murder trial Tuesday by shouting that the prosecution's first witness was lying, prompting her to be pulled from the courtroom.
Aafia Siddiqui is charged with trying to kill U.S. military officers and FBI agents in an Afghanistan police station after grabbing a U.S. soldier's rifle. Her outburst came less than two hours after her trial began in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.
U.S. Army Capt. Robert Snyder had just testified that handwritten documents found in Siddiqui's purse included targets for a mass casualty attack, including the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street and the Brooklyn Bridge.
"I was never planning a bombing! You're lying!" Siddiqui yelled as she was rushed out of court. She said she never plotted against landmarks and had been held in a secret prison.
With Siddiqui gone, Snyder described the chaotic July 18, 2008, confrontation between her and a room filled with Afghan and U.S. military and law enforcement representatives in an Afghan police station in Ghazni.
Snyder said he was seated in a 300-square-foot room when he looked toward a yellow curtain and saw a woman kneeling on a bed and pointing a U.S.-issued rifle at him.
"I could see the inner portion of the barrel which indicated to me it was pointing straight at my head," he said. "I was absolutely certain there was nothing I could do to get out of her line of fire."
A prosecutor asked him if he thought he was going to die.
"Absolutely," Snyder said.
Snyder said he leaped out of the way when Siddiqui hesitated for a second as she attempted to rest the rifle on her shoulder. He said he realized she might not understand how to operate the rifle.
He said he jumped from his seat, heard the rifle go off more than once and rushed for the door, the last to escape the room. He said he drew his pistol, returning seconds later to see Siddiqui fighting with an interpreter for the Army who had pushed the rifle out of harm's way.
As Snyder joined the effort to subdue her, he noticed she was bleeding from the stomach -- a wound he said he later learned was caused by return pistol fire by a soldier who failed to secure his rifle. She was "pleading for us to kill her rather than just detaining her," Snyder said.
"I responded something to the effect of: `That's not going to happen,'" he said.
Besides the defendant, no one was seriously injured.
Snyder's testimony at times reflected Afghanistan's instability and the shifting loyalties of its people. He noted that about 150 Afghani security personnel, some poised in a threatening manner, surrounded about 15 Americans as they tried to carry away a still-kicking Siddiqui on a stretcher outside the police station.
"The situation was very tense to say the least," he said.
John Jefferson, an FBI agent who was also in the room at the time, described helping handcuff the wounded woman. He claimed he heard her say she "hated all Americans ... and wanted to kill all Americans."
Siddiqui, a frail-looking neuroscience specialist who trained at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brandeis University, has vehemently denied the charges in courtroom tirades.
Before the jury entered the courtroom on Tuesday, Siddiqui told spectators that she had information about domestic terror plots, wouldn't work with her lawyers and was there against her will.
"This isn't a fair court," she said. "Why do I have to be here?"
She then sat slumped in her chair, her face veiled by a white head scarf, as defense attorney Charles Swift told jurors there was no conclusive evidence she ever picked up the rifle.
"There are many different versions of how this happened," he said.
Supporters of the scientist maintain she was kidnapped and held in U.S. custody before mysteriously turning up in Afghanistan in 2008. Prosecutors said Tuesday she was arrested the day before the gun battle outside the governor's compound.
The 37-year-old Siddiqui hasn't been charged with terrorism, but her case has drawn attention in part because authorities have accused her of fleeing the United States to her native Pakistan in 2003 after marrying an al-Qaida operative related to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the admitted mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Her brother, Muhammed, attended the first day of trial, telling reporters afterward that his sisters' two youngest children disappeared in 2003.
"They have never been found," he said, declining further comment.