CAIRO — In a message released yesterday, Al Qaeda’s second in command vowed revenge on the United States over an 86-year jail sentence handed down in September to a Pakistani woman convicted of attacking Americans.
Ayman al-Zawahri threatened new attacks to avenge the sentencing and presented it as another reason Pakistanis should overthrow their government and join the jihad against the United States.
Aafia Siddiqui, a graduate of Brandeis University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was convicted in February of two counts of attempted murder after she snatched an assault rifle while in an Afghan police station and opened fire on her US interrogators.
Her story has sparked fierce passions in Pakistan, where she has become an icon for a population rife with anti-Americanism sentiment. Many across Pakistan’s political spectrum believe the United States has fabricated charges against her and may have even held her in a secret prison during a five-year period in which she went missing.
“Soldiers of Islam . . . whoever wants to free Aafia and avenge the assault on Muslim women, join the mujahideen,’’ Zawahri said in the 4 1/2-minute message released in Arabic, Pashto, Persian, and Urdu — a sign Al Qaeda is looking to broaden its reach across the Muslim world.
“We will fight you until the day of judgment, or until you stop your crimes,’’ he said.
The sentence imposed on Siddiqui, 38, capped a strange legal odyssey that began two summers ago, when she turned up in Afghanistan carrying notes referencing a “mass casualty attack’’ on New York City landmarks and sodium cyanide.
While she was in Afghan custody and set to be interrogated, she opened fire on US military personnel. She was tried and convicted in New York City.