Scientist guilty of 'death to Americans' murder bid

Scientist guilty of 'death to Americans' murder bid

A US-trained Pakistani scientist was convicted of attempting to kill FBI agents and others while detained in Afghanistan.

As jurors left the Manhattan courtroom yesterday, Aafia Siddiqui raised an arm and shouted: “This is a verdict coming from Israel, not America.”

The jury had deliberated for three days before finding Siddiqui guilty in the third week of her attempted murder trial, which she often interrupted with courtroom outbursts.

After declaring the verdict came from Israel, she turned towards spectators in the packed court and said: “Your anger should be directed where it belongs. I can testify to this and I have proof.”

Siddiqui, 37, was convicted of two counts of attempted murder, though the jury found the crime was not premeditated. She was also convicted of armed assault, using and carrying a firearm, and assault of US officers and employees in 2008.

She will be sentenced on May 6 and faces a minimum of 30 years on the firearm charge alone.

Prosecutors said she could also get up to 20 years for attempted murder and up to eight years on the remaining counts.

“Today, a jury has brought Aafia Siddiqui to justice in a court of law for trying to murder American military and law enforcement officers, as well as their Afghan colleagues,” US Attorney Preet Bharara said.

US District Judge Richard Berman advised Siddiqui afterwards to work on post-verdict issues with a defence team paid for in part by the Pakistani government. She responded, “These are not my attorneys.”

Outside court, defence lawyer Charles Swift said it was unclear whether there would be an appeal. The finding that there was no premeditation should help Siddiqui at sentencing, he said.

“I think Dr Siddiqui was in a terrible place and that made this very difficult,” he said when asked about his client’s behaviour.

Before her arrest, US authorities had called Siddiqui an al Qaida sympathiser. She was never charged with terrorism, but prosecutors called her a grave threat who was carrying “a road map for destruction” – bomb-making instructions and a list of New York City landmarks including the Statue of Liberty – when she was captured.

The spindly neuroscience specialist who trained at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brandeis University – “is no shrinking violet” Assistant US Attorney Christopher La Vigne said in closing arguments.

“She does what she wants when she wants it. These charges are no joke. People almost died.”

Testifying in her own defence, Siddiqui claimed she had been tortured while held in a “secret prison” before her detention. Charges that she attacked US staff who wanted to interrogate her were “crazy”, she said.

In court, Siddiqui was veiled with a white scarf and often sat slumped in her chair. She openly sparred with the judge and her own lawyers, insisted she could single-handedly bring peace to the Middle East and lashed out at witnesses in tirades that got her kicked out of the courtroom.

During the two-week trial, FBI agents and US soldiers said that when they went to interrogate Siddiqui at an Afghan police station, 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 US to face trial.

A chief warrant officer told jurors he had put down his M4 rifle after being told Siddiqui had been restrained and was shocked when she suddenly appeared from behind a curtain wielding the weapon and yelling: “Allah akbar” (Arabic for “God is great”).

Hearing the rifle go off, the officer said he followed his military training and drew his pistol. Siddiqui was wrestling with an interpreter when he shot her in the stomach.

“I operated within the rules of engagement to eliminate the threat,” he said.

The defence told jurors there was no ballistic, fingerprint or other physical evidence proving the weapon was “touched by Dr Siddiqui, let alone fired by her”.

Siddiqui claimed she she poked her head around a curtain to see if there was a way she might slip out of the room where she was being held because she feared being returned to a secret prison.

“I wanted to get out. ... I was afraid,” she said.

In Washington, the Pakistani embassy said diplomats were “dismayed” over the verdict.

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