"Terror Mom" Sentenced to 86 Years in Prison

Crime, Law and JusticeTrials and ArbitrationJustice SystemDefenseNational SecurityCrimeArmed Conflicts

NEW YORK -- A U.S.-trained Pakistani scientist convicted of trying to kill U.S. agents and military officers in Afghanistan was sentenced Thursday to 86 years in prison after she delivered a message of world peace and forgave the judge.

"I am a Muslim, but I love Americans too," Aafia Siddiqui said during one of several rambling statements delivered in a lilting voice at the behest of U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman.

"Forgive everybody in my case, please," she added. "Also forgive Judge Berman."

During a three-hour hearing in federal court in Manhattan, Siddiqui claimed she had evidence Israel was behind the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and warned more plots were in the works.

"I do not want any bloodshed. I do not want any misunderstanding. I really want to make peace and end the wars," she said.

Siddiqui rolled her eyes, shook her head and threw up her hand in frustration as her lawyers tried to convince the judge she deserved leniency because she was mentally ill.

"I'm not paranoid," she said at one point. "I don't agree with that."

She also tried to dispel rumors she was being tortured while in New York, and urged calm over her plight.

"Tell the Muslims, please don't get emotional," she said, addressing reporters in the audience. "I'm OK. ... I do not want any violence in my name."

News of the harsh sentence still touched off protests in Pakistan.

In the northwestern city of Peshawar, dozens of people took to the streets, burning tires and shouting "Down with America!" and slogans against Pakistani's president and prime minister. Some hit a portrait of U.S. President Barack Obama with their shoes.

"This sentence is a slap in the face of our rulers who have pledged and made promises to bring back Aafia," Siddiqui's sister Fauzia said at her home in the southern city of Karachi.

The Pakistani government, which helped bankroll Siddiqui's defense, was "disappointed at the sentence and sad that our efforts to get her back to Pakistan did not succeed," said foreign office spokesman Abdul Basit. "We are in touch with the U.S. administration to see what possible options are available. We are not giving up."

The sentence imposed on the mother of three capped a strange legal odyssey that began two summers ago, when the 38-year-old Siddiqui turned up in Afghanistan carrying notes referencing a "mass casualty attack" on New York City landmarks and a stash of sodium cyanide.

At trial earlier this year, jurors heard eyewitnesses describe how, after she was detained by Afghan police, Siddiqui grabbed a rifle and tried to shoot U.S. authorities who had gone to interrogate her. They said she yelled, "Death to Americans!" before she was injured in return fire and subdued.

At trial, Siddiqui testified in her own defense. Charges that she purposely shot at soldiers were "crazy," she said. "It's just ridiculous."

Prosecutors argued for a life sentence, saying Siddiqui's crimes were premeditated and intended to harm Americans.

"This was not some random act," Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher La Vigne. "On that day, she saw her chance and she took it."

The defense had asked the judge for a sentence closer to 12 years behind bars. Her lawyers argued in court papers that their client's outburst inside a cramped Afghan outpost was a spontaneous "freak out," born of mental illness, not militancy.

"All she wanted to do was get away because she was afraid," said defense attorney Dawn Cardi.

Calling Siddiqui an "enigma," Berman started the sentencing by outlining Siddiqui's history, noting that she was educated in the United States at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brandeis University in the early 1990s.

Berman said she returned to her native Pakistan in 2003 and married a purported al-Qaida operative, a nephew to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the admitted mastermind of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Both are held at Guantanamo Bay.

He said it was not clear where she was from 2003 through 2008, though Siddiqui tried to clear that up when she spoke, saying she was held in a secret prison in Afghanistan for many years.

When the judge announced that he planned to sentence Siddiqui to 86 years in prison, someone in the courtroom shouted: "Shame! Shame! Shame on this court!" The judge warned the woman she would be removed if she made another outburst.

Just before she was sentenced, Siddiqui said she was at peace. Afterward, she insisted that her lawyers not appeal.

"It's useless, pointless," she said. "I appeal to God."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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