Friday, September 24, 2010

Pakistani scientist sentenced to 86 years in US prison

A US federal court on Thursday verdict a Pakistani woman scientist to 86 years in prison for the attempted murder of US officers in Afghanistan, in a high-profile case closely watched in Islamabad. Aafia Siddiqui, a neuroscientist trained at the high-status Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was found culpable in February of trying to kill American servicemen in Afghanistan. "It is my judgement that Dr Siddiqui is sentenced to a period of incarceration of 86 years," Judge Richard Berman told on Thursday's hearing.

As the sentence was read out, a woman among about a dozen Siddiqui supporters in court shouted: "Shame, shame on this court!" But Siddiqui repeatedly begged with Muslims to take her sentencing calmly. "Forgive everybody in my case, please.... And also forgive Judge Berman," she said, as her legal team said a demand would be lodged. Legal representative of Dr. Siddiqui, Charles Swift told the journalist appeal goes forward and that those errors be addressed, because there were a lot of errors in this case

Siddiqui, a mother of three, was found guilty of snatching a rifle at an Afghan police station in the town of Ghazni where she was being interrogated in July 2008 and trying to gun down a group of US servicemen. Prosecutors said she had chosen up the rifle and opened fire on US servicemen and FBI representatives trying to take her into confinement. She missed and in a struggle was herself shot by one of the US soldiers.

Defense lawyers argued there was no physical evidence, such as finger prints or gunpowder traces, to show Siddiqui even grabbed the rifle. Siddiqui, her face wrapped in an ivory-white shawl, denied shooting at US officers and said in rambling court commentaries that she had been held in secret prisons for years and tortured at the Bagram US military base near Kabul, where she was "brainwashed."

A frail-looking woman who excelled in her US studies, Siddiqui featured on a 2004 US list of people supposed of al-Qaida links. Her case had already attracted the attention of human rights groups after she disappeared for five years. And protests erupted in Pakistan in February when Siddiqui was found guilty by the New York court. Family members and some human rights groups claimed Siddiqui was imprisoned by US forces after disappearing along with her three children in Pakistan in 2003 and that she is now mentally disturbed.

Her lawyers tried to prove Siddiqui, who reported disturbing illusion involving her missing children, was insane. However, a judge ruled her fit to stand trial.Although she was not charged with terrorism prosecutors described her as a would-be terrorist who had also plotted to bomb New York. And the trial failed to shed light on the mystery of what had happened to the petite, academically brilliant mother of three.

Human rights groups have long speculated she may have been secretly imprisoned and tortured at the US base in Bagram, Afghanistan. Siddiqui vanished in Pakistan at a time of intense efforts by US-backed local security forces to root out al-Qaida. And relatives believe she may have been grabbed in one of the operations. But the US military has denied she was ever held at the base.

While two of Siddiqui's children are missing -- one presumed dead -- one son Mohammad Ahmed, a teenager, now lives with her relatives in Karachi.