British family shot dead at funeral 'were victims of an honour killing'

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The Independent Online

The wedding celebrations had just subsided when Muhammad Yousaf, his wife and daughter, all from Nelson in Lancashire, went to the dusty cemetery to remember the friends and family who had died since their last visit to Pakistan.

Although there had been talk of tensions with some relatives in the village because of the recent breakdown of their oldest son's arranged marriage to a cousin from the same rural community around Jaurah near Gujrat in Punjab province, the atmosphere was one of apparent joy at the recent nuptials of their younger son, Asad. They had even decided to stay on for a few days and enjoy a holiday.

But as they offered up their prayers for the recent dead, four men who followed them to the graveyard opened fire with automatic weapons.

Mr Yousaf, 50, his wife, Pervaiz Bibi, 46, and their 22-year-old daughter Tanya, a mother of two young children back in Britain, died instantly in the hail of bullets. Another woman who was a distant relative was killed in the attack. Police said two of the gunmen were cousins of the dead couple and that the family were victims of an apparent honour killing.

The eruption of such violence in a small village in Punjab has sent shockwaves through Britain's Pakistani communities. Many thousands of people left the area to work in the Lancashire textile mills in the 1950s and 1960s, and they retain close links with their home country.

While some said they had grown increasingly alarmed at the number of the province's young men openly carrying powerful assault rifles, there was astonishment that the simple breakdown of a marriage in an area considered relatively peaceful by Pakistan's turbulent standards could spark mass murder.

Tariq Abbas Qureshi, the district police officer confirmed the motive was revenge. "The son of the man killed is in a divorce dispute with the daughter of the people who killed the family," he said.

Friends described yesterday how the family's eldest son, Kamar Yousaf, had married the daughter of one of his mother's sisters in an arranged ceremony. They had been together for around 10 years living close to Mr Yousaf's two brothers and three sisters and their taxi-driver father. The relationship had at first appeared happy. The couple had two children and Mr Yousaf's wife, who has not been named, was treated "like a daughter" by her in-laws, it was claimed. The breakdown had been "just one of those things", relatives insisted, and the woman had moved out of the area and was now thought to be living in a hostel in Manchester.

Two men were arrested and one was paraded on a local television station, while the other two men escaped. It was claimed they had travelled to the area from a village 30km away to carry out the shooting.

Relative Eileen Ansar, a Labour councillor in Nelson, said it had appeared the two families had put the break-up behind them. "Of course you get some saying they are going to do this or that but no one expected them to do something as outrageous, as diabolical as this," she said.

Mrs Ansar said she had visited the village where the killings happened, and described it as "quiet and peaceful". She said everyone was stunned at the apparent motive. "They say this is an honour killing but because a marriage doesn't work where is the honour of killing each other just because two people can't live together?" she said.

The Yousafs were highly respected within the East Lancashire community where they had lived for 30 years. More than 70 members of the extended family, including two of the dead couple's sons, took the flight from Manchester to Islamabad on Thursday night to attend the funerals which were held yesterday, protected by 200 police officers.

When news of their deaths started to emerge in Nelson on Thursday night, a stream of people began calling at the Yousafs' modern semi-detached home in a cul-de-sac near the town centre, where a handwritten note directed them to a nearby community centre. More than 100 people attended Friday prayers at the local mosque yesterday where they were remembered while hundreds more logged on to a memorial site set up on Facebook in honour of Tania Yousaf.

Her two children were aged three and one. She worked as a clerical assistant for the local authority, where colleagues describe her as a "a ray of sunshine". Neighbours said she had been excited at the prospect of going to Pakistan. One said: "One of the last things Tania said to me was, 'See you in a month.' I can't believe she is dead."

The killings, which follow the kidnapping of five-year-old Oldham boy Sahil Saeed in March – who was snatched by armed gunmen while on holiday with his father – and the recent death of a man from Bolton, have prompted concern over the safety of British Asians while visiting Pakistan.

North West MEP Sajjad Karim, who knew the Yousaf family well, said there had been an increasing number of incidents and promised to raise the issue when he held talks early next month with Pakistan's Prime Minister in Brussels. "It is too easy for the Foreign Office to give advice not to travel but we are dealing with communities that still retain lots of links with Pakistan and they have no choice but to go. People are obliged to go to weddings, funerals and the like," he said.

But while the rural areas of the Gujrat district with their tight-knit communities are considered to be relatively safe, some British Pakistanis have noticed a worrying change in recent years. Mohammad Sakib, a local councillor in Nelson, said he had decided to cancel his most recent trip because of concerns over safety in a region where Kalashnikov assault rifles can be bought on open arms markets for as little as £200. "It has become more and more dangerous in recent because there is not a lot of security and anyone outside the area is likely to be victimised. It costs 50p for a bullet," said Mr Sakib.