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Pakistan Demands the Repatriation of Jailed Scientist

VOA News 24 September 2010

Pakistan is vowing to fight for the repatriation of a Pakistani neuroscientist sentenced by a U.S. court Thursday to 86 years in prison for trying to kill U.S. personnel in Afghanistan.

Speaking to parliament Friday, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani called Aafia Siddiqui "the daughter of the nation" and vowed to campaign for her release.

The effective life sentence for Siddiqui has sparked protests across the country. In Karachi, Pakistan's largest city and Siddiqui's hometown, police fired tear gas to prevent a large group of protesters from marching on the U.S. consulate. Demonstrators chanting anti-U.S. slogans also clashed with police Friday in the capital, Islamabad, as they tried to reach the U.S. Embassy.

Siddiqui was convicted in February of attempted murder, assault and other charges.

Prosecutors said the American-educated scientist grabbed a U.S. serviceman's gun and shot at FBI agents while she was being questioned in Afghanistan in 2008. Siddiqui's lawyers say they will appeal the verdict. They argued that mental illness drove the 38-year-old to carry out the 2008 attack.

Judge Richard Berman rejected that argument, saying Siddiqui's actions had likely been premeditated. Still, Berman ordered she be transferred to a prison in Texas specializing in medical and psychiatric services.

Authorities say Siddiqui was detained in the Afghan provincial town of Ghazni while carrying documents on how to make explosives and use chemical weapons.

They also said the documents listed major New York landmarks, including the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street, and the Brooklyn Bridge. U.S. officials say Siddiqui helped al-Qaida operatives who were sent to the U.S. by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Siddiqui spoke at length during the hearing, repeatedly invoking the Prophet Muhammad while urging Muslims not to respond to her sentence with violence.

Defense attorney Charles Swift said government authorities never made available the military's report on the incident. He said the report, which was declassified by the government after it was published this year on the WikiLeaks website, does not mention Siddiqui as ever having fired the gun, only that she pointed a weapon at U.S. troops.

In 2003, Siddiqui disappeared with her three children on a family visit to Pakistan. Some human rights activists have suggested she was secretly held at the U.S. Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

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