In The Courts

U.S. Jury Convicts Muslim Woman of Attempted Murder

Friday, February 5, 2010

Pakistan-born Aafia Siddiqui was found guilty this week by a federal jury in New York on charges of attempted murder and armed assault. During the controversial trial, prosecutors were accused of using fear-mongering tactics.

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NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)--In a rare case involving a woman accused of actions related to terrorism, American-trained neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui was found guilty on Feb. 3 by a federal court jury in New York.

The 12-member jury, comprised of eight women and four men, unanimously convicted the 37-year-old mother of three on all seven counts, including attempted murder and armed assault but without premeditation.

In a case marked by controversy and courtroom disruptions, after three days of deliberation the jury rejected Siddiqui's claims that she did not attempt to shoot and kill American interrogators at an Afghan police compound on July 18, 2008.

"The family is trying to deal with this news, and they unfortunately have been subjected to a lot of bad news in the last six years," Tina Foster, Siddiqui's family spokeswoman and a human rights lawyer for the New York-based International Justice Network, told Women's eNews.

Siddiqui, originally from Karachi, Pakistan, moved to the United States for her education in 1990. She attended the University of Houston before transferring to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to study biology. She went on to pursue a doctorate in cognitive neuroscience at Brandeis University.

In cross-examination and in closing arguments, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Rody said Siddiqui's education in biology, along with a riflery course she once took at MIT, prepared her for constructing dirty bombs and taught her how to shoot a gun.

Her unknown whereabouts between 2003 and 2008 has been the subject of much debate among human rights organizations and U.S. government officials. The government claims Siddiqui was linked to al-Qaida, while human rights organizations claim she was detained and tortured in U.S.-backed secret prisons.

Al-Qaida Evidence Submitted

U.S. Judge Richard M. Berman and the defense counsel however reminded the Manhattan jury that the circumstances of her disappearance were not subject to investigation during trial, nor was anything that occurred before July 18, 2008. Nonetheless, the prosecution was permitted to submit evidence that tied her to al-Qaida, on grounds that such evidence would reveal Siddiqui's motive for picking up a rifle and shooting at Americans.

Prosecutors said Siddiqui was taken into custody at an Afghan police station in the city of Ghazni on July 17, 2008, on suspicion of being a suicide bomber after Afghan officials caught her with paperwork mentioning "cells" and a "mass casualty attack." The papers specifically mentioned New York City landmarks. At the order of Berman, those documents were unavailable for public viewing on the grounds that their depiction of bomb-making formulas posed a threat to public safety.

Defense attorney Linda Moreno told the jury in her closing arguments Feb. 1 that the prosecutors were using fear-mongering tactics to coerce them into choosing a guilty verdict. "Fear has no place in a courtroom, in an American courtroom," she told the jury.

The government and defense team did agree that the incident involving Siddiqui occurred on the second floor of an Afghan police compound, where she was sitting, untied, behind a curtain that divided the room. They disagreed on what transpired afterwards.

A U.S. officer testified that he saw Siddiqui pick up an unsecured rifle and shoot at him and his comrades and that he returned fire. The defense claimed the officer shot Siddiqui because he was startled after she peaked at him from behind the curtain.

Though her interrogators were not wounded, Siddiqui testified that she was shot at several times, including at her abdomen and side. The prosecution held that only one shot was ever fired at her.

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