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'Lady Al Qaeda': Pakistan reacts to Aafia Siddiqui conviction in US court

A New York court's conviction of Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui for the attempted murder of US soldiers in Afghanistan has stirred anti-American anger in Pakistan.

By Huma YusufCorrespondent / February 4, 2010

Women supporters of Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami take part in a rally in Karachi, Thursday, to protest the conviction of Aafia Siddiqui.

Athar Hussain / Reuters

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Karachi, Pakistan

Thousands of political and social activists and students across Pakistan on Thursday protested the conviction of Aafia Siddiqui by a Manhattan jury for the attempted murder of US soldiers in Afghanistan.

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Siddiqui, a US-educated neuroscientist and Pakistani citizen was found guilty Wednesday. For many Pakistanis, the verdict is another example of the US government’s high-handedness and is expected to fuel anti-American sentiment in a country where Washington's foreign policy is already viewed with suspicion.

“The public’s reaction [to the conviction] can be read as a reaction to drone attacks, travel restrictions, and other discriminatory policies [against Pakistanis],” says Riffat Hussain, a political and defense analyst at Islamabad’s Quaid-e-Azam University.

Pakistani opposition parties and human rights activists had already been protesting an escalation of strikes against targets in Pakistan by US drones – in January, 123 civilians were reportedly killed in 12 attacks. “Aafia’s case has become a rallying point for anti-US sentiments,” says Dr. Hussain.

Siddiqui was missing for five years before being apprehended by Afghan police in 2008. During the trial, jurors heard that she had been caught carrying bomb-making instructions and a list of New York City landmarks.

FBI agents and US soldiers testified that during her interrogation at an Afghan police station, she grabbed an assault rifle that one of her interrogators had set down, thinking that Siddiqi was restrained, and shot at him. She was wounded when he returned fire and brought to the US for trial.

Siddiqi said that she was shot when she peered around a curtain in a bid to find a way out of the room where she was being held, and had not shot at anyone.

Pakistani public's view

Many Pakistanis believe that Siddiqi was picked up in the southern port city of Karachi in 2003 and detained at Bagram Airbase, a US facility in Afghanistan, where she was allegedly tortured.

“The Americans should be warned that their tactics and fake convictions will not intimidate us,” says Aaliya Shamim, a spokesperson of the women’s wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami, a religious political party.

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