- Associated Press - Thursday, November 4, 2010

CAIRO (AP) — Al Qaeda’s No. 2, in a message released Thursday, vowed revenge on the United States over an 86-year jail sentence handed down in September to a Pakistani woman convicted of attacking Americans.

Ayman al-Zawahri, al Qaeda’s deputy leader, threatened new attacks to avenge the sentencing and presented it as another reason that Pakistanis should overthrow their government and join the jihad against the United States.

Aafia Siddiqui was convicted in February of two counts of attempted murder after she snatched up an assault rifle while in an Afghan police station and opened fire on her U.S. interrogators.

Her story has sparked fierce passions in Pakistan, where she has become an icon for a population rife with anti-Americanism sentiment. Many across Pakistan’s political spectrum believe the United States has fabricated charges against her and even may have held her in a secret prison during a five-year period in which she went missing.

“O soldiers of Islam … whoever wants to free Aafia and avenge the assault on Muslim women, join the mujahedeen,” said al-Zawahri in the 4½-minute message released in Arabic, Pashto, Persian and Urdu — a sign al Qaeda is looking to broaden its reach across the Muslim world.

“We will fight you until the day of judgment, or until you stop your crimes. Imprison whoever you want, kill whoever you want, raid whatever you want. … The Muslim nation is after you,” he said addressing the United States.

The sentence imposed on 38-year-old Siddiqui capped a strange legal odyssey that began two summers ago, when she turned up in Afghanistan carrying notes referencing a “mass casualty attack” on New York landmarks and a stash of sodium cyanide.

It was while she was in Afghan custody and set to be interrogated that she opened fire on U.S. military personnel. She was tried and convicted in New York.

A neuroscience specialist, she studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brandeis University before returning to Pakistan following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. She and her three children vanished from the southern city of Karachi in 2003.

To date, no one has been able to explain where she was during her five-year absence, but the United States has strenuously denied holding her despite her being on a list of al-Qaeda-linked suspects.

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