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.
Lady Qaeda Trial Interrupted by Her Outbursts
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.
During jury selection last month, Siddiqui said she was "boycotting" the trial and demanded Jews be excluded from serving on the jury.
"I have a feeling everyone here is them [Jews], subject to genetic testing… They should be excluded if you want to be fair," she told federal Judge Richard Berman. That same day she tossed a note across the courtroom to prosecutors asking for time off to pray.
Last week, a soldier who was at the police station when Siddiqui allegedly began shooting, broke down on the witness stand while describing the injuries he sustained during his tour in Afghanistan.
Siddiqui interrupted his testimony, lunging across the table where she sat, and while pointing at the soldier shouted: "I was never planning a bombing! You're lying!"
The outburst resulted in two federal marshals restraining her, and ejecting her from the courtroom. It was the second time she was removed following an outburst.
Also last week, two jurors were excused from duty after they told the judge that a man in the visitors' gallery made a hand motion as if he were firing a gun at them and mouthed an obscenity.
One of the jurors told the judge he was "really freaked out" by the incident and another said he could not remain impartial "anytime anyone makes what I view as a death threat."
When she took the stand to testify, Siddiqui came off as combative and intelligent, but sometimes appeared to be bordering on the delusional.
She denied shooting soldiers and FBI agents with the unattended M4 rifle saying: "What does an M4 look like?"
Siddiqui, who was shot by U.S. soldiers and taken to a military hospital, claims she was shot while trying to escape. She said she had been tortured in a secret prison and feared being taken back there.
She told jurors her case is an example of how authorities "frame people" and that she chose to testify because she alone "can end the war
She said there were anonymous American agents acting against the interests of the U.S., people she called "fake Americans" who she could expose to end the war.