UNDATED: This undated FBI handout photo shows Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani woman who at one time studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge announced on May 26, 2004 that Siddiqui is being pursued by the FBI for questioning about possible contacts with al-Qaida. (Photo by FBI via Getty Images)
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 called on Muslims to resist using violence and said she loves American soldiers.
Aafia Siddiqui, 38, was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Manhattan by Judge Richard M. Berman, who said "significant incarceration is appropriate."
"Don't get angry," Siddiqui said in court to her supporters after the sentence was announced. "Forgive Judge Berman."
Berman responded, saying: "I wish more defendants would feel the way that you do."
The sentencing capped a strange legal odyssey that began two summers ago, when Siddiqui turned up in Afghanistan carrying evidence that — depending on the argument — proved she was either a terrorist or a lunatic.
In February, she was convicted of grabbing a rifle and trying to shoot U.S. authorities in Afghanistan while yelling, "Death to Americans!" The conviction touched off protests in Pakistan that resumed Thursday as hundreds chanted "Free Aafia!" at a rally in Karachi. Others demonstrated outside the Manhattan courthouse.
During a rambling statement to the court Thursday, Siddiqui carried only a message of peace.
"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 said she was particularly upset by overseas reports that she was being tortured in a U.S. prison. She said she was actually being treated well.
"I am not sad. I am not distressed. ... They are not torturing me," she said. "This is a myth and lie and it's being spread among the Muslims."
Prosecutors said Siddiqui is a cold-blooded radical who deserves life in prison.
In court papers, they cited threatening notes Siddiqui was carrying at the time of her detention. They directly quoted one as referencing "a 'mass casualty attack' ... NY CITY monuments: Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge," and another musing how a dirty bomb would spread more fear than death. They claimed the notes, along with the fact that she was carrying sodium cyanide, showed she wasn't an accidental menace.
"Her conduct was not senseless or thoughtless," prosecutors wrote. "It was deliberate and premeditated. Siddiqui should be punished accordingly."
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.