A jury in New
York has found Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, the Pakistani neuroscientist once
dubbed by the US
media as Al-Qaeda Lady, guilty of attempted murder charges on all seven counts
listed in the complaint against her. She was tried on charges of trying to kill
American soldiers in Afghanistan
on July 28, 2008.
The decision on February 3rd came two days after Dr. Siddiqui's case was sent to the jury, which was composed of 7 women and five men, as soon as prosecution and defense lawyers wrapped up their closing arguments.
According to the prosecution, Dr. Siddiqui, 37, grabbed a US warrant officer's rifle while she was detained for questioning in July 2008 at a police station in Ghazni and fired at FBI agents and military personnel as she was pushed down to the ground. None of the US soldiers or FBI agents were injured, but US-educated Dr.Siddiqui was shot. She was charged with attempted murder and assault and other crimes.
claimed that Siddiqui was arrested by the Afghan police in the town of Ghazni with notes indicating plans to attack the Statue of
Liberty and other New York
landmarks. However, she was not charged with terrorism but charged only with
During the trial, the prosecution admitted that there were no fingerprints on the gun she was supposed to have wrested from one of the soldiers. No bullets were recovered from the cell.
Although she was not charged with terrorism, prosecutors described Aafia as a would-be terrorist who had also plotted to bomb New York. In her closing arguments, defence attorney Linda Moreno accused the prosecutors of trying to play on the jury's fears. "They want to scare you into convicting Aafia Siddiqui," she said.
Tina Monshipour, an attorney for Aafia's family, said after the verdict was announced: "This verdict is being subject to an appeal. There were a lot of unfair decisions. She was portrayed as a terrorist even if there were no terrorism charges in this trial. This is one of those cases in which we see prejudice and bias invade the courtroom."
Charles Swift, the lead defense attorney, said after the verdict that "I have faith in American justice system. We will appeal the verdict. I completely disagree with the verdict given". Sentencing will be carried out on May 6, Swift said.
According to a press release issued by the Justice department, Dr Aafia, 37, faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison on each of the attempted murder and armed assault charges; life imprisonment on the firearm charge; and eight years in prison on each of the remaining assault charges. She also faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years in prison on the firearm charge.
Because the charges against Siddiqui were limited to the shooting in Ghazni, the trial unfolded in a kind of vacuum. Early in the case Siddiqui's defense team suggested she was a victim of the "dark side," picked up by Pakistani or U.S. intelligence, but prosecutors insisted they found no evidence she'd ever been illegally detained. By the time of the trial, no mention was made of Siddiqui's whereabouts during her five missing years.
No explanation was given as to why a would-be terrorist would wander around openly with a slew of almost theatrically incriminating materials in her possession.
No questions were raised about the whereabouts of her two missing children, one of whom is a U.S. citizen.
By keeping the focus on Ghazni, the prosecution avoided the main issue in Dr. Aafia's case: Where was she from March 2003 to July 2008 when she suddenly appeared in US custody in Afghanistan.
Human rights groups have long speculated that Siddiqui may have been secretly imprisoned and tortured at the US base in Bagram, Afghanistan, during the five years prior to the 2008 incident.
Another tragic aspect of Dr. Aafia's case is that the mainstream US media has virtually ignored her trial while media from Pakistan was barred from the main courtroom.
As a matter of fact, there were four allegations, not one, that required deliberation:
1. The first allegation against Dr. Aafia: In 2003, US authorities alleged that she had links with Al-Qaeda. Throughout March 2003 flashes of the particulars of Dr. Aafia were telecast with her photo on American TV channels and radios painting her as a dangerous Al Qaeda person needed by the FBI for interrogation. At a news conference in May 2004, US Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller announced that the FBI was looking for seven people with suspected ties to Al Qaeda. MIT graduate and former Boston resident Aafia Siddiqui was the only woman on the list.
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