ISLAMABAD, Pakistan– Pakistanis shouted anti-American slogans and burned the Stars and Stripes on Thursday in protest of a New York jury’s conviction of a Pakistani woman accused of trying to kill Americans while detained in Afghanistan.
The protests drew thousands in at least four cities, demonstrating the widespread distrust, and even hatred, of the U.S. in this country whose cooperation Washington needs to stabilize neighboring Afghanistan.
They also showed the fierce passions surrounding the bizarre tale of Aafia Siddiqui, a 37-year-old U.S.-educated scientist who disappeared for five years until she was picked up by Afghan police in 2008.
The U.S. says Siddiqui shot at American security personnel who came to interrogate her after her arrest in Afghanistan’s central Ghazni province. But many Pakistanis believe the U.S. has fabricated the charges. Some suspect the Americans had long held the thin neuroscience specialist in a secret prison – allegations the U.S. denies.
A Manhattan federal jury convicted Siddiqui on Wednesday of two counts of attempted murder, though it found the act was not premeditated. Siddiqui was also convicted of armed assault, using and carrying a firearm, and assault of U.S. officers and employees.
Pakistanis denounced the verdict against Siddiqui, a devout Muslim who studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brandeis University before returning to Pakistan following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
“We hate America,” “We hate U.S. judiciary,” and “Down with the US,” read some of the signs carried by burqa-clad women protesting in the southern city of Karachi, the hometown of Siddiqui’s family.
“Had they acquitted Aafia, the world would have appreciated the American judicial system and its whole philosophy. But the conviction has shown us how they have crushed justice,” her sister Fauzia told the rally.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari issued a statement expressing concern about the verdict. In Washington, a Pakistani Embassy statement said diplomats were “dismayed” and would consult with Siddiqui’s lawyers and family to determine the next step.
Sentencing is set for May 6. Siddiqui faces a minimum sentence of 30 years on the firearm charge alone. Prosecutors said she could also get up to 20 years for attempted murder and up to eight years on the remaining counts.