Pakistan neuroscientist given 86 years for shooting at US agents Aafia Siddiqui case prompts outrage and protests across Pakistan, with her supporters branding it a crime against humanity
See US verdict against Aafia Siddiqui sparks Pakistan protests
Siddiqui, 38, was convicted of attempted murder this year after shooting at US soldiers and FBI agents in Afghanistan in 2008 as she tried to escape from custody. Siddiqui claimed she had been abducted by US agents and held incommunicado in Afghanistan for five years. The case has drawn appeals from the Pakistani government for her release, and divided legal opinion.
Protesters took to the streets across Pakistan after the sentence, lighting fires and chanting anti-American slogans. The Jamaat-e-Islami religious party announced a national strike after weekly prayers. Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif said he was "saddened"‚ by the sentence; his brother Shahbaz, the chief minister of Punjab province, called the sentence a "crime against humanity".
Siddiqui's family in Karachi accused the US justice system of bias against Muslims. "This is the beginning of the greatest travesty of justice," said her sister Fowzia, who has campaigned for the past two years. "My sister is going to come back. This is not her downfall. This is her victory."
Although the FBI accused Siddiqui of supporting al-Qaida, she was not charged with terrorism. But prosecutors alleged that when she was arrested in Afghanistan two years ago she was found with instructions on how to assemble bombs and a list of New York city landmarks.
Prosecutors said that as US agents were about to interrogate her, she grabbed an assault rifle and opened fire, shouting "death to Americans". The Americans were uninjured, but Siddiqui was shot and brought to New York for trial after she recovered.
Before the sentencing, Siddiqui repeated her claim that she had been abducted and held at a "secret prison" for several years. She said she only wanted peace in the world. "I do not want any bloodshed. I do not want any misunderstanding. I really want to make peace and end the wars."
The defence had argued that her seizing the gun and opening fire was a spontaneous "freak-out", that had more to do with mental illness than al-Qaida.
"Mentally ill and caught in the crossfire of a war that is no longer fought on conventional battlegrounds, Dr Siddiqui's self destructive behaviour got her shot once in the abdomen, charged with attempted murder and convicted of the same," the defence said.
During the trial she made rambling denunciations of the US and Israel. She was ejected from court several times.
Prosecutors asked for life, on the grounds that she was an al-Qaida supporter and a danger to the US. "Her conduct was not senseless or thoughtless. It was deliberate and premeditated. Siddiqui should be punished accordingly."
The judge, Richard Berman, said "significant incarceration" was appropriate.
Siddiqui urged her supporters to remain calm. "Don't get angry," she said. "Forgive Judge Berman."
Siddiqui trained at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brandeis University in the early 1990s. US authorities claim she returned to Pakistan in 2003 after marrying an al-Qaida operative related to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.
Her disappearance for five years has never been adequately explained, but there is a widespread belief in Pakistan that the Pakistan government handed her over to the US in 2003, and that she was tortured and interrogated.
Mindful of public opinion, Pakistan's government paid $2m for a US defence team and the prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, and publicly appealed to Washington to release Siddiqui or have her repatriated to a Pakistani prison.
Source: The Guardian (UK)