NEW YORK, Jan. 29, 2010— -- After a series of outbursts resulted in her twice being kicked out of the courtroom in which she is on trial, a Pakistani woman accused of trying to kill American soldiers at a detention center in Afghanistan in 2008, finally took the stand Thursday and denied she ever fired a shot.
"It's just ridiculous… I never attempted murder, no way. It's a heavy word," Aafia Siddiqui, a devoutly Muslim, MIT-trained neuroscientist and mother of two told jurors in a Manhattan federal court.
The allegations for which Siddiqui, 37, is being tried are deadly serious, if convicted, she could be sentenced to life in prison, but the courtroom antics of the so-called "Lady al Qaeda" border on a farce. A petite woman who keeps all but her eyes hidden behind a white headscarf and veil, Siddiqui's own lawyers fought to keep her from testifying in her own defense claiming her "diminished capacity" would "turn the trial into a spectacle."
But the events of recent weeks, some observers could argue, have already turned the trial into a spectacle.
Siddiqui, 37, is charged with attempted murder. Prosecutors say while being held for questioning at an Afghan police station in July 2008, she grabbed an unattended military rifle, shouted "Allah Akbar," and shot two rounds at a U.S. soldiers and FBI agents.
When captured earlier in 2008, U.S. officials say Siddiqui, an alleged al Qaeda operative, had in her possession plans for a "mass casualty attack" on several New York City landmarks, including the Brooklyn Bridge and Statue of Liberty.
During jury selection earlier this month, Siddiqui said she was "boycotting" the trial and demanded Jews be excluded from serving on the jury.
"I have a feeling everyone here is them [Jews], subject to genetic testing… They should be excluded if you want to be fair," she told federal Judge Richard Berman. That same day she tossed a note across the courtroom to prosecutors asking for time off to pray.
After receiving her undergraduate degree from MIT, Siddiqui received two graduate degrees in neuroscience from Brandies University, a nonsectarian Jewish university in Boston.