Page last updated at 23:17 GMT, Tuesday, 5 August 2008 00:17 UK

'Al-Qaeda' woman appears in court

Aafia Siddiqui, pictured in custody
Accounts differ as to how Aafia Siddiqui ended up in American custody

A Pakistani scientist accused of links to the al-Qaeda leadership has appeared in a New York court charged with attempting to kill US soldiers.

Aafia Siddiqui, 36, is accused of assaulting and attempting to kill the US personnel sent to take custody of her in Afghanistan last month.

She faces 20 years in prison on each charge if convicted, but her lawyer dismissed the charges as ridiculous.

Rights groups say she has spent the last five years in secret US jails.

Ms Siddiqui - who the US say was married to a nephew of the man accused of masterminding the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed - wore a purple headscarf and moved slowly into the Manhattan federal court for a short hearing.

Her lawyer said she was in pain, having been shot.

The mother-of-three, an ex-student at the elite Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), did not enter a plea and is due to appear in court again on Monday for a bail hearing.

'Innocent of any crime'

The FBI says Mrs Siddiqui was apprehended on 17 July in the Afghan province of Ghazni by local security forces who allegedly found documents including recipes for explosives and chemical weapons in her handbag.

US army officers and FBI agents visited her in detention on 18 July, they say, alleging she seized a US officer's M-4 rifle from behind a screen before opening fire on the Americans.

Aafia Siddiqui's sister, Fauzia, calls for a fair trial

She missed, and was reportedly overpowered after being shot in the chest by US servicemen.

Ms Siddiqui's lawyer, Elaine Whitfield Sharp, dismissed the charges as "a tall story" and disputed claims by the US that her client had been in hiding for several years before her alleged capture in July.

"It's not credible and there's nothing to support it," said Ms Whitfield Sharp of the case against her client.

According to her family, Ms Siddiqui has not been seen since returning to Pakistan on a visit from the US in 2003.

'Innocent of any crime'

At a news conference on Tuesday in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, Ms Siddiqui's sister said: "Aafia was tortured for five years until one day US authorities announce that they have found her in Afghanistan."

Fauzia Siddiqui said her sister had spent "five years in detention" despite being "innocent of any crime".

Ms Siddiqui's family deny she has connections to al-Qaeda.

A statement from Pakistan's foreign ministry said that embassy staff in Washington are seeking consular access to Ms Siddiqui and the government is "committed to bringing back all Pakistani detainees".

"Our efforts in this regard will continue," the statement said.

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