Scientist decries guilty verdict
Blames Israel for outcome; US alleges she shot at troops
NEW YORK - After two days of deliberations, a jury yesterday found Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani woman with MIT and Brandeis degrees, guilty of attempted murder and assault of Americans in Afghanistan.
Following the verdict, Siddiqui, a 37-year-old former Roxbury resident, calmly addressed the spectators in the courtroom.
“This is a verdict coming from Israel, not from America,’’ she said, speaking through a white scarf that covered her face. “Your anger should be directed where it belongs.’’
The verdict ends a two-week trial in which prosecutors used eyewitnesses - but little forensic evidence - to prove that Siddiqui grabbed a machine gun from an American soldier, who had come to interrogate her, and fired it toward his colleagues but missed. Another soldier testified he barely escaped with his life, and an Afghan interpreter said he tried to wrestle the gun from her. She was subdued when a US soldier shot her in the abdomen.
The jury also heard from an employee of the Braintree Rifle and Pistol Club, who said Siddiqui had taken a 12-hour pistol training course in the 1990s.
Defense lawyers, backed by expert witnesses, countered that her fingerprints were not found on the gun and that there was no evidence it had been fired.
The verdict is expected to further strain relations between the United States and Pakistan, its essential ally against terrorism. Insisting she had been framed by the US government, Siddiqui said she had been tortured and held for years in a secret US prison. Many Pakistanis believed her and held huge rallies in support. The Pakistani government paid for her defense and has asked that she be sent home.
“We are dismayed over the unexpected verdict of the jury in Dr. Aafia Siddiqui case,’’ Nadeem Kiani, press attache of the Pakistan Embassy in Washington, said in a statement.
“The government of Pakistan made intense diplomatic and legal efforts on her behalf.’’
In rare circumstances, the United States can send foreigners convicted of crimes to serve their sentence in their home country. But a US official who declined to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the press, said that would be extremely unlikely in this case, because the United States and Pakistan have no formal extradition treaty and the two countries have such divergent views about Siddiqui.
“Here she is regarded as a criminal with ties to Al Qaeda and there she is regarded as a martyr,’’ he said.
US officials said Siddiqui raised money for terrorist causes as she pursued a biology degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a doctorate at Brandeis. They say she went into hiding in Pakistan in 2003, shortly after the arrest of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. They say Afghan authorities arrested her in Ghazni Province in 2008 with a purse full of notes in her handwriting about “mass casualty attacks’’ on US targets.
Yesterday, Elaine Whitfield Sharp, a Marblehead lawyer on Siddiqui’s defense team, said her client countered that she was forced to write those documents. Sharp said that she believes Siddiqui was kidnapped, tortured, and framed and that her three young children were also kidnapped.
“I think they were clearing out secret prisons and they dumped her out and set her up,’’ Sharp told reporters.
But Sharp also contended that Siddiqui is mentally ill. The defense team had unsuccessfully argued that she shouldn’t be allowed to take the stand.
Sharp said Siddiqui is calling for her supporters in Pakistan to peacefully accept the verdict.
“She doesn’t want there to be any violent protests or violent reprisals in Pakistan,’’ Sharp said. “That’s not what she is about.’’
Even in the United States, Siddiqui’s case has struck a chord. In addition to her brother, Mohammed, who lives in Houston, a handful of supporters attended the trial each day. A 56-year-old Muslim man from Queens said he attended because he believed she had been abused and he was concerned about her fate, even though he didn’t know her personally.
When asked whether he thought the trial was fair, the man, who declined to give his name, said: “One individual fighting the most powerful country on earth? How could that be fair?’’
Yesterday, the jurors declined to comment on their decision as they left the courthouse.
Although they found Siddiqui guilty of two counts of attempted murder, they ruled it was not premeditated, so she no longer faces a life sentence but could still be sentenced to 30 years or more, her lawyers said.
She was also convicted of armed assault, using and carrying a firearm, and assault of US officers and employees. She will be sentenced May 6.
Siddiqui’s family issued a statement that the verdict must be overturned on appeal.