Pakistani woman accused of aiding Al Qaeda operatives appears in court

The case against Aafia Siddiqui, who has been missing since 2003, raises questions about illegal detention centers across Pakistan.

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Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani national and MIT graduate wanted for questioning by the FBI in relation to terrorism cases, appeared in a New York court on Tuesday after being charged with attempting to kill US soldiers. Before being taken into custody in Afghanistan last month, Ms. Siddiqui was last seen in Karachi, Pakistan, in 2003. Her reappearance raises questions about the Pakistan government's practice of illegally detaining terror suspects in secret security centers.

Although Siddiqui was accused of having links to the Al Qaeda leadership and has been wanted for questioning by the FBI since 2003, she appeared in court on charges of attempted killing, reports the Times Online.

Siddiqui was arrested in the Ghazni Province of Afghanistan, outside the governor's compound there, by the Afghanistan National Police. The next day, Siddiqui attacked US soldiers and FBI agents preparing to question her, reports ABC News.

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Siddiqui's family maintains that she has been illegally detained by Pakistani security agencies for the past five years, reports the BBC.

The BBC reports that the FBI and Pakistan government in 2003 denied having anything to do with Siddiqui's disappearance. She was never officially listed as wanted by any American or Pakistani agency. Even after her reappearance in Afghanistan, the US government maintains that her whereabouts have remained unknown.

Human rights groups say that Siddiqui is only one of hundreds, possibly thousands, of Pakistanis who have been illegally detained in secret security centers where they are tortured and forced to confess to terrorism. In June, the Asian Human Rights Commission reported that 52 illegal detention centers maintained by various security agencies had been identified across Pakistan.

In a major national crisis in November 2007, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf purged the Supreme Court and deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, along with several other key judges, after facing pressure to reveal the fate of "Pakistan's disappeared." According to Dawn, a Pakistani English-language daily, Chief Justice Chaudhry had demanded that the government produce illegal detainees in court and convened a three-member bench to hear pleas for the recovery of missing persons.

Since coming to power in February 2008, Pakistan's new coalition government has not pursued the issue of Pakistan's "enforced disappeared" and coalition parties have yet to agree on the best manner in which to reinstate the judges deposed by Mr. Musharraf last year. In June, Amnesty International released a new report on Pakistanis believed to be in illegal detention and called for the government to reinstate the judges who were concerned with investigating this human rights violation.

On Tuesday, the same day that Siddiqui appeared in court in New York, leaders of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) met to discuss the possible impeachment of President Musharraf and agree on a timeline for the reinstatement of deposed Supreme Court judges. While the coalition leaders were able to agree that action should be taken against Musharraf, any decision regarding the judges was postponed, reports Dawn.

According to the BBC, the Pakistani government did, however, initiate an effort to return Siddiqui to Pakistan before her trial commences in New York. Although her lawyer has asked that Siddiqui's case be dismissed, she faces 20 years in prison on each charge if found guilty.

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