'Honour killing' pair jailed for life

Wednesday 10 November 2010 18:13 GMT

Two cousins who became the first suspects ever extradited to Britain from Iraq were jailed for life today for the "honour killing" of a 20-year-old woman.

Mohammed Ali and Omar Hussain were found guilty of murdering Banaz Mahmod in January 2006 after she fell in love with a man disapproved of by her family.

Banaz, of Mitcham, Surrey, was subjected to an horrific assault, strangled, and stuffed in a suitcase found buried under a Birmingham patio three months later.

Ali was told he must serve at least 22 years behind bars and Hussain was given a minimum term of 21 years.

In a letter handed to police weeks before she died, Banaz had named Hussain and Ali as men "ready and willing to do the job of killing me".

Judge Brian Barker, the Common Serjeant of London, told them: "This was a barbaric and callous crime."

The men carried out the murder with a third man, Mohammad Hama, on behalf of Banaz's father, Mahmod Mahmod, and uncle, Ari Mahmod.

Hama and the Mahmod brothers, members of the Kurdish community, were jailed at the Old Bailey in 2007.

Ali and Hussain seemed to have escaped justice, having fled to their homeland in northern Iraq, a country with a ban on extraditing its citizens.

But a police team led by Detective Chief Inspector Caroline Goode was determined to bring them to account and today Ali, 30, and Hussain, 32, were convicted by a jury following a second Old Bailey trial.

Ms Goode said the case was a warning to those who tried to escape justice: "We are not going to give up."

She added: "The extradition is legal history."

The judge said Banaz had been a "young woman with personality and determination" who "made the mistake" of falling in love with a man disapproved of by her family and community.

"To restore the so-called family honour, it was decided by her father and uncle that she should die and her memory be erased."

The judge told Ali and Hussain: "You were willing and active participants in what was an agonising death and a deliberately disrespectful disposal.

"You are hard and callous men who were quite prepared to assist others in killing in the so-called name of honour and who placed respect from the community above life, tolerance and understanding."

Ari Mahmod and his brother had passed a "death sentence" on Banaz, he added.

The judge told Ali and Hussain: "You two, along with Hama, were more than willing to fall in with his plan and to carry out that execution.

"You proceeded to cram her body into a suitcase, take it up to Birmingham, and hide it in that back garden, confidently expecting that evidence to disappear forever."

The judge paid tribute to Banaz's boyfriend Rahmat Sulemani, who is now under witness protection and had "put himself at considerable risk" to return to give evidence in the case for a second time.

Bobbie Cheema, prosecuting, said there had been threats to his family "emanating from Iraq".

He told Ali and Hussain that the time each of them had spent in custody in their home countries would not be deducted from their sentences as each had made "a determined attempt to flee the jurisdiction".

Ali's whereabouts came to attention when he was arrested in Sulaimaniya after killing a 16-year-old boy in a hit-and-run motorcycle accident.

Local women's groups were aware he was wanted in Britain and alerted Iraqi authorities. Police in London were informed in October 2007, via the FBI, that he was now in custody.

Legal advice given to the Metropolitan Police suggested the ban on extradition was not "insuperable" and in November the Crown Prosecution Service decided to ask for Ali to be brought back.

UK officials had to tread a careful path through a chaotic legal minefield, putting the request to the authorities but being careful not to be seen to encourage the abandonment of the Iraqis' due process of law.

Ali was eventually brought to Britain in June 2009.

Hussain, a notorious smuggler believed to be responsible for a number of murders in his home country and described by police as an "absolute menace", was holed up in a remote and lawless area.

He was being sheltered by his two brothers - one a member of the Assayish, the Kurdish security force, and another a Peshmerga fighter.

But he fell out with them over his gambling and womanising and turned up in hospital in December 2009 after being shot in the leg with an AK-47 by one of the brothers. Hussain was believed to be having an affair with one of their wives.

When he appeared before a judge for an extradition hearing he claimed it was a case of mistaken identity, that he had not been in the UK at the time of Banaz's murder, and that tribal elders would back his alibi.

Ms Goode had to fly to Iraq to appear at the court - which she described as "a cross between Midnight Express and a cattle market" - to contradict his claims.

The judge was persuaded when she produced benefits records and a photograph from his arrest over a traffic offence in 2005.

Hussain was extradited to Britain in March 2010, where he complained about the NHS treatment for his wounded leg and tried to jump the queue for an operation.

He is currently on trial in his absence in Iraq for shooting the mayor of Qalidza, a village near Sulaimaniya. The victim survived the attack.

Both Hussain and Ali had previously been asylum seekers, with Hussain living in Birmingham and Ali in Brixton, south London.

They murdered Banaz after coming under the influence of Ari Mahmod, an influential figure within the Kurdish community.

Ari and Mahmod Mahmod were jailed for life in July 2007, with minimum terms of 23 and 20 years, for arranging the killing. Mohammad Hama was also given a life sentence, with a minimum 17-year tariff.

An Independent Police Complaints Commission report in April 2008 found Banaz had been let down after reporting that she feared for her life in the weeks leading up to her murder.

Police said similar cases would be handled differently now following intensive training and awareness-raising among officers.

Ms Goode said: "Banaz's murder has been a catalyst for change."

Jurors took just three hours to convict Hussain and Ali of murder today.

Ali and Hussain were also found guilty of making threats to kill the victim's boyfriend Rahmat Sulemani and perverting justice by burying her body. But they were cleared of conspiracy to kidnap Mr Sulemani.

Sardar Mahmood, 27, of Messenger Road, Smethwick, Birmingham, was found not guilty of the kidnap, threats and perverting justice allegations, and discharged.

Ali and Hussain were cousins, and Ali had been a cousin of Banaz - who was born in Iraq before moving to Britain with her family as a child.

Det Chief Insp Goode said of today's verdicts by the jury: "It sends a message to potential perpetrators of honour-based violence: don't think you are going to go abroad and forget about it, we are going to find you and bring you back.

"To potential victims: we are going to take this seriously. We are not going to give up."

Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen said: "This has been a truly shocking case and it's been extremely important that justice has been seen to be done over the appalling murder of Banaz Mahmod.

"Today's conviction sends out the key message that so-called 'honour' killings will not be tolerated either in Britain or in countries like Iraq.

"Our research in the Kurdistan region of Iraq shows that despite the recent efforts of the authorities to clamp down on 'honour' killings, women and girls are still being murdered by relatives in their dozens, sometimes with the tacit approval of the wider community.

"Nothing can bring Banaz back to life but at least her tormentors have been properly punished and the message sent out that 'honour' crimes will never, ever be tolerated."

Ms Goode said: "We have been absolutely determined to bring these men before the courts to stand trial for the murder of Banaz.

"Following the conviction of her father and uncle back in 2007, these men no doubt thought they had escaped justice and that they would not be held to account for the terrible crime that they committed.

"I am extremely pleased to see justice served for Banaz today and would like to thank everyone involved in the inquiry who has made this possible.

"Banaz was a loving, caring, young woman whose life was brutally cut short by the very people who should have loved and protected her - in any terms the ultimate betrayal.

"This has been a complex inquiry. The MPS has used every resource at its disposal to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice.

"It is important that people realise that if they commit murder in this country, they cannot hope to evade justice by fleeing the country. We will pursue every lawful means to trace them and bring them to justice."

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