Pakistani scientist Aafia Siddiqui loses appeal on shooting conviction

NEW YORK Tue Nov 6, 2012 4:54am IST

An Islamist demonstrator holds pictures of Pakistani scientist Aafia Siddiqui outside the U.S. embassy in Tunis, during a protest calling for her release February 9, 2012. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi /Files

An Islamist demonstrator holds pictures of Pakistani scientist Aafia Siddiqui outside the U.S. embassy in Tunis, during a protest calling for her release February 9, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Zoubeir Souissi /Files

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Monday upheld the conviction and 86-year prison sentence of a Pakistani neuroscientist for shooting at FBI agents and soldiers after her arrest in Afghanistan.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York said a lower court judge had not erred in allowing Aafia Siddiqui, 40, to testify in her own defense at trial and in allowing certain evidence against her.

Siddiqui, whose conviction was widely criticized in Pakistan, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Richard Berman in September 2010. She was convicted by a New York federal jury of attempted murder, armed assault and other charges.

She was arrested in July 2008 by Afghan police, who said she was carrying two pounds (900 grams) of sodium cyanide and crumpled notes referring to mass casualty attacks and New York landmarks.

The day after her arrest, she grabbed an M-4 rifle in her interrogation room and started shooting while yelling "death to America," the trial jury heard.

No U.S. agents or soldiers were hit, but Siddiqui was shot and wounded in response, according to U.S. prosecutors.

Siddiqui's defense lawyers, three of whom were paid by the Pakistani government, argued that their client had shot at the U.S. officials in a panic and said the crime lacked any connection to terrorism.

On appeal, her attorneys challenged her conviction and sentence on many grounds. They said the judge improperly allowed jurors to consider the crumpled notes, and that the judge should never have allowed Siddiqui to decide whether to take the stand.

"The district court went to extraordinary lengths to ensure that Siddiqui understood the implications of testifying and had the capacity to testify," the opinion said.

Dawn Cardi, an attorney for Siddiqui, was not immediately available to comment.

The appeals court also sided with Berman in finding that Siddiqui had likely premeditated the attack, and that terrorism sentencing requirements were applicable because of her willingness to harm Americans. (Reporting by Basil Katz; Editing by Todd Eastham)

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