Reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan — Depending on which side of the globe you call home, she's either Lady Al Qaeda or the incarnation of America's persecution of Muslims.
Aafia Siddiqui, 37, a neuroscientist and mother of three, was once branded by the U.S. as the most wanted woman in the world, an Al Qaeda facilitator who posed a "clear and present danger to the U.S.," then-U.S. Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft told reporters in 2004.
These days, the diminutive Pakistani woman sits in the custody of New York authorities, awaiting a verdict on charges that she attempted to murder FBI agents and U.S. Army officers in Afghanistan in July 2008, when she allegedly picked up an unattended rifle and fired at the agents and officers.
In Pakistan, however, Siddiqui is a victim and a hero, a courageous patriot who has withstood years of torture at the U.S. detention facility in Bagram, Afghanistan. Pakistanis insist that the charges are fabricated and the U.S. has only one option for righting the wrongs it's committed: Send their beloved Aafia home.
"It's a witch hunt, and it's got nothing to do with what the truth really is," says Attiya Inayatullah, a Pakistani lawmaker with the PML-Q party and a leading advocate for Siddiqui's cause. "You cannot do this to Aafia. It's nothing but villainy. At a recent candlelight vigil for Aafia, my placard read, 'FBI gangsters, return our daughter, Aafia.' "
Given the symbolic value of Siddiqui's case, a guilty verdict in New York could cause a firestorm of anti-American sentiment in a country where the U.S is already viewed as a malevolent intruder.
Amina Janjua, an Islamabad human rights activist, said rage over the case could spill into the streets.
"When Pakistanis go wild, they can do anything," Janjua said. "Every second that the U.S. holds our daughter, they are testing the whole nation, testing how much patience we have, how much we can tolerate."
Pakistanis have a list of gripes against the U.S.
They're angry that U.S. drone missile strikes aimed at Taliban fighters continue in tribal areas. Despite denials from both the U.S. and Pakistani governments, they accuse the controversial American security firm once known as Blackwater of secretly operating in their country.
Siddiqui's case, however, has given Pakistanis a face to rally around. Demonstrations on her behalf have been attended by thousands, from Lahore to Karachi to Islamabad. Activists have sought intervention by the Pakistani government, which has agreed to pay for Siddiqui's defense team and has pushed the U.S. to repatriate her to Pakistan.