Man admits racist killing of refugee who defied Saddam

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The Independent Online

To Lee Mordecai, Kalan Kawa Karim was just another asylum seeker, a target for drunken racism. Mordecai could not have known that behind the young Iraqi Kurd was a story of courage and conviction.

To Lee Mordecai, Kalan Kawa Karim was just another asylum seeker, a target for drunken racism. Mordecai could not have known that behind the young Iraqi Kurd was a story of courage and conviction.

Mr Karim had once been a political activist fighting Saddam Hussein's tyrannical regime. In his hometown of Dohuq, his skill and vigilance had earned him the nickname of Hoshyar, or "Awake". But eventually his luck ran out and he was caught after being shot in the leg. For three years he suffered ill treatment and torture in an Iraqi jail and had to have his leg amputated.

The moment Mr Karim was released in 2002, he fled to Britain, seeking asylum in a country where he could finally use his name openly instead of an alias. In Swansea he found a city surrounded by hills reminiscent of his homeland and, granted refugee status, he moved into a ninth-floor flat with his brother, Nazar, and friends.

Hampered by his prosthetic limb and poor command of English, he struggled to find a job and would often spend his days at language lessons or at the Swansea Bay asylum-seekers support group drop-in centre, watching friends play football.

Until the early hours of 6 September he was just another anonymous face among the city's 180 or so Kurdish refugees. Then a drunken Lee Mordecai attacked him in a darkened alleyway and hit him in the back of the neck, leaving him dying on the pavement.

In death, Mr Karim's name became synonymous with what the local papers dubbed Swansea's first racially motivated killing. His case inspired marches and shed light on the repeated racist attacks on the city's Kurdish community.

Yesterday Mordecai, 26, who had previously denied murder, admitted manslaughter, pleading guilty at Swansea Crown Court to a crime which prosecutor Paul Thomas QC described as "cowardly, underhand and racially motivated". The case has been adjourned for sentencing until next month.

Mr Karim and a friend had gone to King Pin Pizza in Kingsway, an area of Swansea packed with pubs and clubs. returning home with their pizzas, the pair battled their way through the crowds but became separated as Mr Karim attempted to eat his pizza. Without warning, he was dealt the fatal blow from behind.

Mr Thomas told the court the lesser charge had been put forward after discussions with Mr Karim's family. Prosecutors had been ready to accept an admission of manslaughter for a number of reasons, he continued. "First, there was only one blow, from a fist or open hand, and there was no attempting a repeated or second blow. There was no weapon involved and the death resulted from increased pressure on the carotid artery in the neck."

He added that Mordecai, of Bonymaen, Swansea, had been "intoxicated" at the time and there was no evidence to suggest he had martial arts training or intended the fatal effect of the blow.

But yesterday's decision has done nothing to appease a Kurdish community which already feels under siege from racists in a city where the British National Party openly campaign. Sarkat Junad, 30, a close friend of the dead man, said yesterday: "We are not happy at all. It should have been murder. This is not justice for Mr Karim. He was a good person, who never harmed anyone. He was happy here. He was always saying, 'I like being here, the people are nice, the people are friendly'."

Within days of Mr Karim's death, hundreds of mourners held a vigil, laying flowers and observing a minute's silence. Later, 1,000 people joined an anti-racist march through the city. But it is clear the tension that erupted after his killing still simmers below the surface.

There are approximately 180 Iraqi Kurds in Swansea, most of whom fled violence and discrimination in the belief Britain would prove a sanctuary. But although the police described Mr Karim's killing as an isolated incident, many Kurds insisted they too had suffered some form of violence in the city.

As a result, the Home Office took the unusual step of agreeing to postpone plans to send a group of 90 more asylum seekers in one go. Instead their arrival was staggered, with around a dozen turning up each week, so local organisations helping them to settle could cope. Even now, Mr Junad explained, the Kurdish community remains in fear. "We all thought we had come to Britain to be safe. But after what happens, we don't go out alone any more," he said.

Naz Malik, the director of the Cardiff-based All-Wales Ethnic Minority Association, acknowledges that some vulnerable members of the community still feel threatened today and points to a leafleting campaign by the British National Party as being particularly unhelpful. But he insisted many Kurds live happily in a largely tolerant city. "There are a lot of positive things in the community but the challenge still remains," he said.

For Mr Karim, that is all in the past. Weeks after his death his body was flown home, where it was met by his parents and his wife. Now he lies in a grave in Zako Cemetery, Dohuq.