Aafia Siddiqui was sentenced to 86 years in federal prison this morning, following her conviction in February for attempted murder of US government officials. Siddiqui was allegedly caught in Afghanistan with cyanide, documents indicating attack on the US, including landmarks in New York City, but the MIT-trained neuroscientist was tried and convicted in a simple criminal case for firing a rifle at FBI agents and US soldiers.
Before Judge Richard Berman announced the sentence, Siddiqui gave a meandering 30 minute speech. "I didn't take any notes," said Siddiqui. "I wasn't planning on speaking. I was planning on sleeping." She also asked the Muslims in the courtroom to forgive the court. "I don't want any bloodshed," she said. "I don't want any violence in my name."
Though Siddiqui was not charged with terrorism, terrorism enhancements were applied to her sentence. As Judge Berman was about to announce the sentence of 86 years, Siddiqui supporter Sara Flounders, an activist with the International Action Center, yelled, "Shame! Shame! Shame on this court!"
Siddiqui, 38, was convicted in February, after an often raucous trial that ended the way it began, with Siddiqui yelling at jurors and shouting to spectators.
Siddiqui threw up her arms after the jury found her guilty and heckled the jurors as they left the court room, shouting "This is a verdict coming from Israel, not America."
Siddiqui's three week trial in a Manhattan federal courtroom was repeatedly interrupted by her outbursts, which were frequently anti-Semitic or delusional. She was twice removed from her own trial by U.S. marshals.
The jury deliberated for three days before finding the U.S.-educated Pakistani mother of three guilty of attempted murder, armed assault, using and carrying a firearm, and assault of U.S. officers and employees.
Though never charged with terrorism, U.S. authorities say Siddiqui was an Al Qaeda sympathizer who was arrested in Afghanistan in 2008 carrying plans for a "mass casualty attack" on New York landmarks,including the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge.
Prosecutors said that while being held for questioning at an Afghan police station in July 2008, she grabbed an unattended rifle, shouted "Allah Akbar," and fired two rounds at U.S. soldiers and FBI agents before being shot in return.
Siddiqui denied the charges. "It's just ridiculous… I never attempted murder, no way. It's a heavy word," Siddiqui, said while on the stand.
Her lawyers told jurors there was no ballistic, fingerprint or other physical evidence proving the weapon was "touched by Dr. Siddiqui, let alone fired by her."
A petite woman who kept all but her eyes hidden behind a white headscarf and veil, Siddiqui fought with her own lawyers to testify in her own defense. Her defense team told the court that Siddiqui was "driven by her severe mental illness" and feared she would incriminate herself. Prosecutors argued she was more cagey than crazy and should not be denied the right to defend herself if she chose.
Her lawyers argued that putting Siddiqui on the stand would "turn the trial into a spectacle," but some observers could argue that the trial was turned into a spectacle weeks ago when jury selection began.