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US convicts Pak woman scientist for 86 years

A US judge has imposed an effective life term of 86 years on a Pakistani neuroscientist convicted of shooting at FBI agents and soldiers after her arrest in Afghanistan.

world Updated: Sep 24, 2010 14:38 IST

A US judge has imposed an effective life term of 86 years on a Pakistani neuroscientist convicted of shooting at FBI agents and soldiers after her arrest in Afghanistan.

Aafia Siddiqui, 38, was found guilty by a federal court jury in February on charges she grabbed a US warrant officer's rifle and fired at her American interrogators as the tiny, frail woman was wrestled to the ground.

Her conviction was widely criticized in Pakistan, where Siddiqui is believed to have been innocent and mistreated while being jailed in Afghanistan and later in the United States.

But Siddiqui, who spoke at length three times during the 3.5-hour hearing in New York, repeatedly told supporters in the gallery not to fight in her name and that she was being well treated.

"I don't want any violence in my name, please," she said. "Thanks to God, I am well in prison. They are not torturing me." Siddiqui, who has a doctorate from Brandeis University in Massachussets, wore a beige tunic and white headscarf covering her mouth and forehead.

US District Judge Richard Berman opened the hearing by noting the disparity between the defense request he sentence her to 12 years, and prosecutors who argued for a life term.

Defense lawyers, three of whom were paid by the Pakistani government, argued Siddiqui shot at the US officials in a panic and said the crime lacked any connection to terrorism.

Judge Berman found Siddiqui had likely premeditated the attack and said it should fall under terrorism sentencing requirements because of her willingness to harm Americans.

Berman disagreed with defense arguments Siddiqui suffers from mental illness and noted her "intelligence, talents and possibilities." He nonetheless ordered her transferred to a prison in Texas specializing in medical services.

Siddiqui was arrested in July 2008 by Afghan police, who said she was carrying two pounds (900 grams) of sodium cyanide and crumpled notes referring to mass-casualty attacks and New York landmarks.

The Embassy of Pakistan in Washington said in a statement "we will continue our legal and diplomatic efforts for her transfer to Pakistan."

Once in the interrogation room on July 18, the day after her arrest, she grabbed the M4 rifle and started shooting while yelling "death to America," the trial jury heard. No US agents or soldiers were hit, but Siddiqui was shot and wounded in response, according to US prosecutors' version of events.