The lawyer for a Pakistani woman who became the first female terrorism suspect after the 9-11 attacks is demanding evidence that she is still alive at a federal prison in Fort Worth.
The woman, Aafia Siddiqui, has not been seen or heard from by family or friends in more than a year, the lawyer said.
Siddiqui, a U.S.-trained scientist known as “Lady al Qaeda,” is serving 86 years at Federal Medical Center Carswell in west Fort Worth. She is accused of shooting at American agents who were interrogating her in 2010 in Pakistan because of suspicions that she was involved in terrorist efforts against the U.S.
That year, a New York jury found her guilty of attempted murder and assault.
“We believe only by having an independent medical evaluation can the world be assured that she is alive and well,” Siddiqui lawyer Stephen Downs said this week at a news conference in Washington, D.C.
Downs, executive director of the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms, said Pakistani consular staffers who tried to visit Siddiqui at the prison were shown only the back of a woman, making it impossible to verify whether it was Siddiqui.
The Pakistani government maintains that Siddiqui is innocent and has called on the U.S. to release her.
Downs demanded that Siddiqui be examined by a medical team that would include her sister, a Harvard-trained neurologist living in Pakistan.
Patricia Comstock, a prison spokeswoman, said Wednesday that Siddiqui is alive but declined to answer questions about her medical condition.
Siddiqui originally moved to Houston in 1989 with her brother to pursue her education. She became a neuroscientist with a bachelor’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a doctorate from Brandeis University.
In 2003, the FBI declared Siddiqui the world’s most-wanted woman. She was captured five years later in Ghazni, Afghanistan, in possession of numerous documents describing the making of chemical weapons, dirty bombs and instructions to attack U.S. landmarks, investigators say.
While being interrogated in Pakistan, Siddiqui picked up an unsecured M-4 rifle and fired twice, missing both interrogators, officials have said. The officers shot her with a pistol.
The U.S. government has said Siddiqui was a jihadi who married a nephew of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, accused of being the 9-11 mastermind.
Siddiqui’s family denies the marriage.
Both the Islamic State, known by various acronyms, including ISIS, and the Taliban have reportedly tried to swap American captives for her.
“ISIS is trying to get in on the popularity of Aafia,” Downs said. “She has nothing to do with ISIS. She was locked up before ISIS even got going.”
A petition filed in July on whitehouse.gov demands Siddiqui’s repatriation to Pakistan and has more than 100,000 signatures. Supporters held a protest three weeks ago in front of the Federal Bureau of Prisons calling for her release.
In March 2013, supporters gathered in Burnett Park outside the federal courthouse in downtown Fort Worth. Among them was Ramsey Clark, U.S. attorney general from 1966 to 1969.
Clark said U.S. authorities have never said why they suspected Siddiqui of working with al Qaeda.
“No one has ever explained why she was arrested in the first place,” Clark said. “It’s unbelievable what’s happening to her.”
This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.