A Pakistani scientist convicted of trying to kill U.S. agents and military officers has been sentenced to 86 years in prison.
Aafia Siddiqui appeared in federal court in Manhattan. A jury convicted the U.S.-trained scientist in February of trying to kill U.S. agents and military officers after she was detained by police in Afghanistan in 2008.
During Siddiqui's three-week trial, FBI agents and U.S. soldiers testified that when they went to interrogate Siddiqui, she snatched an unattended assault rifle and shot at them while yelling, "Death to Americans!" She was wounded by return fire but recovered and was brought to the United States to face trial.
Her conviction touched off protests in Pakistan. On Thursday, there were more protests as hundreds chanted "Free Aafia!" at a rally in Karachi, Pakistan, while others demonstrated outside the Manhattan courthouse.
Though she was not convicted of terrorism, the government has argued that Siddiqui is a cold-blooded radical who deserves a "terrorism enhancement" under federal sentencing guidelines that would guarantee a life term.
"She made it explicit, through her own words and her conduct, her intention to kill Americans, to cause `death to Americans,"' prosecutors wrote in court papers.
Prosecutors cited threatening notes Siddiqui was carrying at the time of her detention. They directly quoted one as referencing "a `mass casualty attack' ... NY CITY monuments: Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge," and another musing how a dirty bomb would spread more fear than death. They claimed the notes, along with the fact that she was carrying sodium cyanide, showed she wasn't an accidental menace.
"Her conduct was not senseless or thoughtless," prosecutors wrote. "It was deliberate and premeditated. Siddiqui should be punished accordingly."
The defense had asked the judge for a sentence closer to 12 years behind bars. Her lawyers argued in court papers that their client's outburst inside a cramped Afghan outpost was a spontaneous "freak out," born of mental illness instead of militancy.
"Mentally ill and caught in the crossfire of a war that is no longer fought on conventional battlegrounds, Dr. Siddiqui's self destructive behavior got her shot once in the abdomen, charged with attempted murder and ... convicted of the same," the defense wrote.
Siddiqui's rambling courtroom rants proclaiming her innocence and offering odd solutions for Middle East peace ran counter to the prosecution's portrait of "a cold, calculating jihadist who set out to harm American troops by any means necessary," the defense wrote.
Siddiqui, 38, trained at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brandeis University in the early 1990s. Authorities claim she returned to her native Pakistan in 2003 after marrying an al Qaeda operative related to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the admitted mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Testifying in her own defense while wearing a head scarf at trial, Siddiqui claimed she was tortured at a "secret prison" before her detention. Charges that she purposely shot at soldiers were "crazy," she said. "It's just ridiculous."
Among Saddiqui's possessions at the time of her arrest, the defense says, was a computer disk with an essay she'd written about feminism and her struggles as a Muslim woman living in America.
The title: "I am not a Terrorist."
In Karachi on Thursday, about 400 activists of the Islamist group Jamaat-e-Islami and its allied youth group, Pasban, gathered outside the Karachi Press Club carrying pictures of Siddiqui and chanting slogans against the U.S. government and justice system.
"Free Aafia," "We want Aafia, not dollars!" the activists chanted, a reference to U.S. aid funds given in return for Pakistan's cooperation in battling Islamist militancy.
The group tried to march toward the U.S. Consulate, but the police stopped them before they got too close. Aafia's sister, Fauzia Siddiqui, later went to the consulate to submit a written message, which said, "Free Aafia Now."
"I have no good expectations from Judge Richard Berman," Fauzia Siddiqui told reporters. "He has time and again shown his bias and he has shown his discrimination and he has shown how he has tortured the justice system of the U.S."