Many Pakistanis are angry at their government for failing to intervene in the case of Aafia Siddiqui, a 38-year-old Pakistani neuroscientist and mother of three who was sentenced Thursday to 86 years in a U.S. federal prison. Demonstrations erupted after mosque prayers today in at least four Pakistani cities. Prime Minister Yousef Reza Gilani sought to tap into that anger in a speech to Parliament, which unanimously adopted a resolution calling for Siddiqui's repatriation.
"We all are united, and we want the daughter of the nation to come back to Pakistan," Gilani said, according to Dawn News. "I fought for her, my lawyer fought for her and now I will take up this matter on a political level."
While he spoke, dozens of protesters took to the streets of the northwestern city of Peshawar, burning tires and shouting slogans against Gilani as well as "Down with America!" Some threw their shoes at a portrait of President Barack Obama, Dawn also reported.
Gilani had authorized the Pakistani government to pay $2 million for Siddiqui's U.S. defense team and personally appealed to Washington for her release, saying such a move would "improve the U.S. image in Pakistan."
Interior Minister Rehman Malik phoned Siddiqui's family to express sympathy after her sentencing and said the government would try its best to win her freedom, the Pakistani newspaper The Nation reported. Siddiqui's sister also met with Gilani today, the South Asian News Agency reported.
Siddiqui is believed to have lived in the U.S. from 1991 to 2002 and holds neuroscience degrees from Brandeis University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. U.S. authorities say she returned to Pakistan after marrying an al-Qaida operative related to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind behind the Sept. 11 attacks.
She was arrested in Afghanistan after police there found explosives and notes referring to a "mass casualty attack" with lists of New York landmarks like the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street and the Brooklyn Bridge. Siddiqui claims she was held incommunicado in Afghanistan for five years.
The incident put Siddiqui near the top of the FBI's list of most wanted terrorists. A jury in New York convicted her this past February and sentenced her Thursday to 86 years behind bars.
Many Pakistanis are convinced Siddiqui is innocent and believe U.S. agents kidnapped and tortured her for years. Local media have speculated about why American authorities believed she was guilty and acknowledged that Siddiqui might have made self-incriminating statements in court.
"Aafia Siddiqui hurt her case in court by publicly speaking against Jews and America and also by giving evidence that proved she had learnt how to use guns while studying in Boston," reported the Associated Press of Pakistan, a Pakistani news agency.