Pakistani woman acclaimed by Islamists allowed to end U.S. appeal

Aafia Siddiqui is shown in this FBI combo photo released in Washington on May 26, 2004. Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistan-born neuroscientist, has become a rallying cry for militant groups demanding her release from a U.S. prison. REUTERS/FBI/Handout via Reuters

By David Ingram NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Pakistani neuroscientist whom Islamist militants have tried to free in proposed prisoner swaps with the United States was allowed on Thursday to withdraw what could be the last appeal of her conviction on U.S. charges of attempted murder. U.S. District Judge Richard Berman in Manhattan said that Aafia Siddiqui, who is serving an 86-year sentence in a prison medical center in Texas, had "clearly and unequivocally" stated her intent to end the appeal. The judge ordered the case closed and said that, even if the appeal had continued, he likely would have ruled against Siddiqui. She was represented at trial by an able team of five lawyers, Berman wrote. He declined to hold a hearing to question Siddiqui further. In May, a new lawyer filed the appeal on Siddiqui's behalf, but in July Siddiqui wrote a letter to Berman saying she had no faith in the U.S. legal system and refused to participate in it. Islamic militants in Syria, Algeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan have made Siddiqui's release a condition for freeing certain foreign hostages. Islamic State proposed swapping American journalist James Foley for her, but they executed him after their demands, which included an end to U.S. air strikes in Iraq, were not met. A jury convicted Siddiqui in 2010 of attempting to shoot and kill a group of FBI agents, U.S. soldiers and interpreters who were about to interrogate her in Ghazni, Afghanistan, for alleged links to al Qaeda. None of them were wounded, but Siddiqui was shot in the abdomen when they returned fire. Siddiqui likely would not be allowed to file another appeal except under extraordinary circumstances, such as newly discovered evidence, and might not understand the consequences of a withdrawal, the new lawyer, Robert Boyle, wrote in a letter to the judge last month. Boyle did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Thursday. A 42-year-old mother of three, Siddiqui was educated in the United States and has degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brandeis University. Siddiqui was likely unaware of the Islamic State proposal and its actions should not be held against her, Boyle said in an interview last month. Islamist militant groups have called her case an example of the worst excesses of the U.S. war on terror, citing her family's allegation that she was raped and tortured at the U.S. military's Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. U.S. officials have said they found no evidence of that. At trial, Siddiqui's legal team urged an acquittal because there was no evidence the rifle had been fired. An appeals court in 2012 affirmed her conviction and sentence, rejecting arguments that her trial was unfair. (Reporting by David Ingram; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Steve Orlofsky)