Yet another story that reveals why we don’t see more courageous Islamic reformers standing up to the jihadists. “Death to betrayers of Islam who don’t deserve God’s forgiveness. Speaking less you will live more.” An update on this story: “Mother who defied the killers is gunned down,” by Afif Sarhan and Caroline Davies in The Observer, June 1 (thanks to all who sent this in):
Leila Hussein lived her last few weeks in terror. Moving constantly from safe house to safe house, she dared to stay no longer than four days at each. It was the price she was forced to pay after denouncing and divorcing her husband – the man she witnessed suffocate, stamp on, then stab their young daughter Rand in a brutal ‘honour’ killing for which he has shown no remorse.
Though she feared reprisals for speaking out, she really believed that she would soon be safe. Arrangements were well under way to smuggle her to the Jordanian capital, Amman. In fact, she was on her way to meet the person who would help her escape when a car drew up alongside her and two other women who were walking her to a taxi. Five bullets were fired: three of them hit Leila, 41. She died in hospital after futile attempts to save her.
Her death, on 17 May, is the shocking denouement to a tragedy which had its origins in an innocent friendship between her student daughter, Rand Abdel-Qader, 17, and a blond, 22-year-old British soldier known only as Paul.
The two had met while Rand, an English student at Basra University, was working as a volunteer helping displaced families and he was distributing water. Although their friendship appears to have involved just brief, snatched conversations over four months, Rand had confided her romantic feelings for Paul to her best friend, Zeinab, 19.
She died, still a virgin, four months after she had last seen him when her father, Abdel-Qader Ali, 46, discovered that she had been seen talking ‘to the enemy’ in public. She had brought shame on his honour, was his defence, and he had to cleanse his family name. Despite openly admitting the murder, he has received no punishment.
It was two weeks after Rand’s death on 16 March that a grief-stricken Leila, unable to bear living under the same roof as her husband, found the strength to leave him. She had been beaten and had had her arm broken. It was a courageous move. Few women in Iraq would contemplate such a step. Leila told The Observer in April: ‘No man can accept being left by a woman in Iraq. But I would prefer to be killed than sleep in the same bed as a man who was able to do what he did to his own daughter.’
Her words were to prove prescient. Leila turned to the only place she could, a small organisation in Basra campaigning for the rights of women and against ‘honour’ killings. Almost immediately she began receiving threats – notes calling her a ‘prostitute’ and saying she deserved to die like her daughter.
Even her sons Hassan, 23, and Haydar, 21, whom she claimed aided their father in their sister’s killing, disowned her. Meanwhile, her husband, a former government employee, escaped any charges, and even told The Observer that police had congratulated him on what he had done.
It is not known who killed Leila. All that is known is that she was staying at the house of ‘Mariam’, one of the women’s rights campaigners, whose identity The Observer has agreed not to reveal. On the morning of 17 May, they were joined by another volunteer worker and set off to meet ‘a contact’ who was to help Leila travel to Amman, where she would be taken in by an Iraqi family.
‘Leila was anxious, but she was also happy at having the chance to leave Iraq,’ said Mariam. ‘Since the death of her daughter, her own life was at serious risk. And this was a great opportunity for her to leave the country and to fight for Iraqi women’s rights.
‘She had not been able to sleep the night before. I stayed up talking to her about her plans after she arrived in Amman. I gave her some clothes to take with her and she was packing the only bag she had. She was too excited to sleep.’
Mariam said that when she awoke Leila had already prepared breakfast, cleaned her house and even baked a date cake as a thank-you for the help she had been given. After the arrival of ‘Faisal’, the volunteer (whose identity is also being protected), the three left the house at 10.30am and started walking to the end of the street to get a taxi. They had walked less than 50 metres when they heard a car drive up fast and then gunshots rang out. The attack, said by witnesses to have been carried out by three men, was over in minutes. Leila was hit by three bullets. Mariam was hit in her left arm and Faisal in her left leg. ‘I didn’t realise I had been shot for a few seconds, because as I heard the gunfire I saw Leila falling to the ground and saw blood pouring from her head,’ said Mariam. ‘I was so shocked, I didn’t immediately feel the pain.’
Two men ran from their homes to help. They rushed Leila to hospital and a passing taxi took the other two. But Leila died at 3.20pm, despite several operations to save her. As she lay in her own hospital bed receiving treatment, Mariam said that she heard someone saying that Leila had been shot in the head. But there were other mutterings that were clearly audible. ‘I could hear people talking on the corridors and the only thing that they had to say was that Leila was wrong for defending her daughter’s mistakes and that her death was God’s punishment. […]
Mariam has moved out of her home. But within hours of speaking to The Observer a close friend went to her new address to deliver a message that had been left for her at her front door. It read: ‘Death to betrayers of Islam who don’t deserve God’s forgiveness. Speaking less you will live more.’ She believes it was sent by Leila’s killers….