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Scientist convicted of trying to kill Americans

By Associated Press
Wednesday, February 3, 2010 21:21 EDT
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NEW YORK (AP) – A U.S.-trained Pakistani scientist was convicted Wednesday of charges that she tried to kill Americans while detained in Afghanistan in 2008, shouting with raised arm as jurors left the courtroom: “This is a verdict coming from Israel, not America.”

A jury deliberated three days in federal court in Manhattan before finding Aafia Siddiqui guilty in the third week of her attempted murder trial, which she often interrupted with rambling courtroom outbursts.

After declaring the verdict came from Israel, she turned toward spectators in the packed courtroom 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 wasn’t premeditated. She was also convicted of armed assault, using and carrying a firearm, and assault of U.S. officers and employees.

Advised afterward by U.S. District Judge Richard Berman to work on post-verdict issues with a defense team paid for in part by the Pakistani government, Siddiqui responded, “These are not my attorneys.”

Outside court, defense attorney Charles Swift told reporters that it was unclear whether there would be an appeal. The finding on 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 behavior.

Said another one of her lawyers, Elaine Sharp: “This is a verdict based on fear and not on fact.”

Siddiqui faces a minimum sentence 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 at sentencing May 6.

“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,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement.

Before her arrest, U.S. authorities had called Siddiqui an al-Qaida sympathizer. 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 defendant — a spindly neuroscience specialist who trained at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brandeis University — “is no shrinking violet,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher La Vigne said in closing arguments.

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

Testifying in her own defense, Siddiqui claimed she had been tortured while held in a “secret prison” before her detention. Charges that she attacked U.S. personnel who wanted to interrogate her were “crazy,” she said. “It’s just ridiculous.”

In court, Siddiqui veiled her head and face 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.

“I was never planning a bombing! You’re lying!” she yelled while an Army captain testified.

In her closing argument, defense 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. “The defense trusts that you’re much smarter than that.”

During the two-week trial, FBI agents and U.S. soldiers testified that when they went to interrogate Siddiqui at an Afghan police station, she snatched up 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.

A chief warrant officer, who testified in uniform but did not give his name, told jurors he had set down his M4 rifle after being told Siddiqui had been restrained. He testified he was shocked when she suddenly appeared from behind a curtain wielding his M4 rifle and yelling, “Allah akbar,” Arabic for “God is great.”

“It was pretty amazing she got that thing up and squared off,” he said. “She was looking at me and aiming dead at me.”

Hearing the rifle go off, the officer said he followed his military training and pulled 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 defense 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 testified she was shot shortly after 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. She said she was desperate to escape because she feared being returned to a secret prison.

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

In Washington, the Pakistani Embassy issued the statement saying diplomats were “dismayed” over the verdict.

“The Government of Pakistan made intense diplomatic and legal efforts on her behalf and will consult the family of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui and the team of defense lawyers to determine the future course of action,” the statement said.

 
 
 
 
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