11 June 2007

The Tragic Story of Banaz Mahmoud

Banaz Mahmoud Bakabir Agha, a 20 year old woman of Kurdish origin was brutally murdered on 23 January 2006 in a presumed 'honour' killing.

Police believe she was murdered by her own family after wishing to remarry after ending her forced marriage by divorce. Her body was found in a suitcase in April. Banaz had contacted London Metro Police many times to express her fear of murder, but was sent back into the arms of the family that they suspect murdered her.

As one of five daughters in a strictly-traditional Kurdish family, Banaz Mahmoud's future was ordained whether she liked it or not.

She was kept away from Western influences, entered an arranged marriage at the age of 16 with a member of her clan and was expected to fulfil the role of subservient wife and mother.

But Banaz, a bright, pretty 19-year-old, fell in love with another man.

And for that, she was murdered by her father, uncle and a group of family friends. The very people who should have protected her from harm plotted her killing, garrotted her with a bootlace, stuffed her body in a suitcase and buried her under a freezer.....................

Banaz's crime was to "dishonour" her father, Mahmod Mahmod, an asylum seeker from Iraqi Kurdistan, by leaving her abusive marriage and choosing her own boyfriend - a man from a different Kurdish clan.

Her punishment was discussed at a family "council of war" attended by her father, uncle Ari and other members of the clan. In the living room of a suburban semi in Mitcham, South London, it was decided that this young woman's life was to be snuffed out so that her family would not be shamed in the eyes of the community.

Banaz was only ten when she came to Britain with her father, who had served in the Iraqi army, her mother Behya, brother Bahman and sisters Beza, Bekhal, Payman and Giaband.

The family, who came from the mountainous and rural Mirawaldy area, close to the Iranian border, were escaping Saddam Hussein's regime and were granted asylum

But Banaz's move to a western country changed nothing about the life she was made to lead.

She had met her husband-tobe only three times before her wedding day, once on her father's allotment. He was ill-educated and old-fashioned but her family described him as 'the David Beckham of husbands'. The teenage bride, who was taken to live in the West Midlands, was to tell local police in September 2005 that she had been raped at least six times and routinely beaten by her husband.

In one assault, she claimed, one of her teeth was almost knocked out because she called him by his first name in public.

To leave the arranged marriage would have brought dishonour on the Mahmod family and Banaz's parents apparently preferred their child to suffer abuse rather than be shamed.

But after two years of marriage, she insisted on returning home to seek sanctuary. It was there, at a family party in the late summer of 2005, that she met Rahmat Sulemani.

For the first time in her blighted existence, Banaz fell in love. She was besotted with Rahmat, 28, calling him 'my prince' and sending endless loving text messages. Her father and uncle Ari were furious; the young woman was not yet formally divorced by her husband and her boyfriend was neither from their clan nor religious. More importantly, perhaps, he had not been chosen by her family.

Mahmod became enraged when his daughter refused to give up her boyfriend and talked of being in love.

The threat to family honour was immense and made worse by the fact that Banaz's elder sister, Bekhal, had already brought "shame" on the family by moving out of the house at the age of 15, to escape her father's violence.

Bekhal's defiance meant that Mahmod lost status in the community because he was seen to have failed to control his women and his younger brother Ari, a wealthy entrepreneur who ran a money transfer business, took over as head of the family.

It was he who telephoned Banaz on December 1, 2005 to tell her to end the affair with Rahmat or face the consequences.

The following day, Ari called a council of war to plan her murder and the disposal of her body. She was secretly warned by her mother that the lives of her and her boyfriend were in danger, and she went to Mitcham Police Station to report the death threat. But she was so terrified of her family's reaction that she asked police to take no action and refused to move to a refuge.

The next day, an officer called at the family home but Banaz would not let him in.

She believed that her mother would protect her from harm but as an insurance against her disappearance, went back to the police station a week later to make a full statement, naming the men she believed would kill her.

One of the men was Mohamad Hama, who has admitted murder and two of the others named fled back to Iraq after the killing. On New Year's Eve 2005, she was lured to her grandmother's house in nearby Wimbledon for a meeting with her father and uncle to sort out her divorce.

When her father appeared wearing surgical gloves, ready to kill her, she ran out barefoot, broke a window to get into a neighbour's house and then ran to a nearby cafe, covered in blood from cuts to her hands and screaming: "They're trying to kill me".

The officers who attended the scene and accompanied Banaz to hospital did not believe her story.

However, the distressed and injured victim was able to give her own testimony about the attack to the jury in a short video recorded on Rahmat's mobile phone at St George's Hospital, Tooting.

The terrified lovers pretended they had parted but they continued to meet in secret. Tragically, they were spotted together in Brixton on January 21 and the Mahmods were informed.

Mohamad Hama and three other men tried to kidnap Rahmat and, when his friends intervened, told him he would be killed later.

When he phoned to warn Banaz, she went to the police and said she would co- operate in bringing charges against her family and other members of the community.

The policewoman who saw Banaz tried to persuade her to go into a hostel or safe house but she thought she would be safe at home because her mother was there.

On January 24, Banaz was left on her own at the family house and her assassins, Hama and two associates, were alerted.

The full details of what happened to her are still not known but two of the suspects, Omar Hussein and Mohammed Ali, who fled back to Iraq after the killing, are said to have boasted that Banaz was raped before she was strangled, "to show her disrespect".

There followed a "massively challenging" investigation into her disappearance by detectives, fearing the worst. The family's appalling crime was finally exposed when, three months after she went missing, Banaz's remains were found, with the bootlace still around her neck.

The discovery of her body provoked no emotion in her father and uncle. Even at her funeral, the only tears were from Banaz's brother.

"She had a small life," a detective on the case said. "There is no headstone on her grave, nothing there to mark her existence."

Yesterday, her devastated boyfriend, who has been given a new identity by the Home Office under the witness protection programme, said: "Banaz was my first love. She meant the world to me."

The dead girl's older sister, Bekhal, urged other women in the same position as her and her sister to seek help before it is too late.

Even today she continues to fear for her life, lives at a secret address and never goes out without wearing a long black veil that covers her entire body and face apart from her eyes.

She strongly rejected the suggestion that Banaz had brought "shame" on her Kurdish family by falling in love with a man they did not approve of, saying her sister simply wanted to live her own life.

"There's a lot of evil people out there. They might be your own blood, they might be a stranger to you, but they are evil.

"They come over here, thinking they can still carry on the same life and make people carry on how they want them to live life."

Asked what was in her father's mind on the day that Banaz died, Bekhal replied: "All I can say is devilishness. How can somebody think that kind of thing and actually do it to your own flesh and blood? It's disgusting."

Bekhal says she is scared whenever she sees somebody from the same background as her.

"I watch my back 24/7."

1 comment:

Sagehunter said...

My heart was broken over this story. I have put her picture on my desktop and will be using it in a lecture Why God Allows Pain and Suffering. I suppose what is the most painful quality to this story is it left me wondering if anybody seriously mourned her. I will remember her, even if I did not truly meet her and get to know her. It is the least I can do.
Michael Canada