The Montreal man accused of killing three of his daughters and his first wife asked a relative a month earlier to help him kill his eldest daughter Zainab (inset), a murder trial heard Tuesday. “He told me that we will put her in water and drown her,” the man testified. The witness, who is related to accused killer Tooba Mohammad Yahya, cannot be identified under a temporary court order. The order bars media from publishing information that would identify him, until he has completed his testimony.
Yahya, 41, her husband Mohammad Shafia, 58, and their son Hamed, 20, are each charged with four counts of first-degree murder. They have pleaded not guilty to killing Shafia sisters Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17 and Geeti, 13, and Rona Amir Mohammad, 52. The victims were found dead inside a submerged car in a canal in Kingston on June 30, 2009. Rona was Shafia’s first wife, whom he married in his native Afghanistan.
Yahya’s relative testified that he spoke to Shafia by telephone around the end of May 2009, when Shafia was in Dubai on business. The man said he wanted to help Yahya sort out family problems. He said he’d been told that Zainab wanted to get married to a young Pakistani man, against the family’s wishes. The man said he wanted to help talk Zainab out of the ill-advised marriage.
The man said he was horrified by what Shafia asked him as soon as they began the conversation.
“He told me, ‘Zainab, she is a stubborn lady and she doesn’t listen to me. She is going to library and [using] Internet. She doesn’t work at home. She goes outside and she has Canadian other friends and she has contact with them and she has contact with a Pakistani guy and these are the reasons I want to kill her, ’ ” the man testified.
He said Shafia was angry and upset and called Zainab a “whore” and “prostitute. Shafia asked the man to invite Yahya, Zainab and another Shafia child to visit him, on the pretext of having a barbeque, the man testified. He said Shafia suggested they go to an ocean or a beach.
“We just go for that excuse, for that excursion and then … when we get there close to the water, Shafia will just push Zainab into the water, just throw her in the water,” he testified.
The man said he swore at Shafia and hung up the telephone, then tried to call other family members to alert them to the plot. Eventually he reached Yahya and told her. He said he had conversations with Zainab, before the call with Shafia, in which she described an oppressive home life. She told the man that she was prevented from going to school, was ordered to dress conservatively and wear a traditional Muslim veil, and was urged to marry a man of her father’s choosing. The man testified that Zainab told him her older brother Hamed spied on her conduct and reported back to her father.
“Zainab, she hated her father and meantime Shafia hated Zainab,” he testified.
“He [Shafia] was the chief of that family,” the man testified. Zainab had grown to understand that she had the right in Canada to choose her own path in life, the man said.
The man said he also spoke by telephone with Shafia’s first wife. She told him that her life had “disintegrated” and she “had no worth to Shafia.”
The man said that the woman explained that she had asked Shafia for a divorce and $50,000 but he offered only $2,000.
During cross-examination by Peter Kemp, Shafia’s lawyer, the witness acknowledged that there has been enmity between the two men for many years.
“I never called Shafia my enemy … but he called me his enemy,” he said.
Kemp asked why Shafia would recruit someone he considered an “enemy” in a murder plot. The man said that if he helped Shafia, he’d be considered the main suspect, since people would know that the two were not friendly.
“Today you could have seen me in that box,” he said, gesturing toward the prisoner’s box where the three accused sit during the trial.
The other two defence lawyers have not yet questioned the man.
His testimony came at an unusual juncture. He appeared because a technical problem prevented prosecutors from playing a videotape of an interrogation of Shafia. On Tuesday morning, jurors watched the final hour of a six-hour videotaped interrogation of Yahya by an RCMP officer, who will be questioned by defence lawyers. His testimony will not be completed until the other tape is played.
(This appeared first at the Montreal Gazette)