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Pakistani took chance to kill Americans: prosecutors

By Edith Honan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Pakistani woman accused of shooting at U.S. interrogators in Afghanistan committed an act of premeditated violence against the United States, prosecutors said during closing arguments of her attempted murder trial on Monday.

But Aafia Siddiqui's defense attacked the government's version of events, saying there was no forensic evidence to support it.

Siddiqui, 37, is accused of grabbing a U.S. warrant officer's rifle while she was detained for questioning in July 2008 in Afghanistan's Ghazni province and firing at FBI agents and military personnel as she was wrestled to the ground.

None of the U.S. agents or personnel were injured, but Siddiqui, who the U.S. government has accused of links with al Qaeda, was shot. She is charged with attempted murder and assault and other crimes and faces life in prison if convicted.

"She saw her chance to kill Americans and she took it," Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher LaVigne told Manhattan federal court. "Not only did she have the motive and intent to harm the United States, she had the know-how to do it."

Siddiqui was arrested by Afghan police, who said she was carrying containers of chemicals and notes referring to mass-casualty attacks and New York landmarks.

She was not charged in connection with those materials and the charges do not mention terrorism. Instead, the case centered on an incident the next day in the Afghan police compound, where U.S. soldiers and FBI agents sought to question Siddiqui.

"RAMBO TYPE"

Siddiqui's defense lawyer, Linda Moreno, said there was no evidence the rifle had ever been fired, since no bullets, shell casings or bullet debris were recovered and no bullet holes detected.

Moreno also said the testimony of the government's six eye-witnesses contradicted one another on Siddiqui's location in the 300-square-foot (28-square-meter) room, the number of bullets fired and who was present.

"The government has cast Aafia Siddiqui as some sort of Rambo type," Moreno said. "Let's leave behind the fear and talk about what the evidence tells us."

LaVigne said Siddiqui's scientific background suggested she would be familiar with chemicals used to build a bomb and that she took classes at a shooting range while studying at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Moreno also said the government never attempted to rebut Siddiqui's claim, which she shouted out during the opening day of trial and restated when she took the witness stand, that she had been tortured while held in a secret prison.

Siddiqui's family and Pakistani human rights groups say she and her three children disappeared from the Pakistani port city of Karachi in 2003, where she was living at the time.

They believe she was held at Bagram, the main U.S. base in neighboring Afghanistan, and that she was raped and tortured, although they do not say what evidence they have to support their claim.

"This is the biggest joke, that sometimes I've been forced to smile under my scarf," Siddiqui said of the charges.

She testified she was hoping to slip out of the room and escape when she was shot, saying: "My concern was being transferred back to some other secret prison."

The government suggested on Monday that Siddiqui was in hiding after she disappeared from Karachi.

(Reporting by Edith Honan, editing by Michelle Nichols)

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