A Canadian jury heard chilling details from prosecutors who accuse Afghan immigrant Mohammad Shafia of killing his three daughters and his first wife, whom he considered to be dishonoring the family. Prosecutors say his son and his second wife helped him commit and then cover up the crime.
On June 30, 2009, the bodies of 19-year-old Zainab Shafia, 17-year-old Sahar Shafia, 13-year-old Geeti Shafia and 50-year-old Rona Amir Mohammad were found inside a Nissan submerged in a canal in Kingston, Ontario. They were on their way home from a family trip to Niagara Falls.
CTV reports on the opening day of the trial:
Crown prosecutors began framing the deaths of three teenage girls and their father’s first wife as an “honour killing” in an Ontario courtroom on Thursday, more than two years after the victims were found submerged in the Rideau Canal near Kingston, Ont.
It’s expected that the honour killing narrative will be key to the prosecution’s case against the accused family members: Tooba Mohammad Yahya, 41, husband Mohammad Shafia, 58, and son, Hamed Mohammad Shafia.
All three face four counts each of first-degree murder, and all three have pleaded not guilty to those charges.
Evidence included a Google search from the wealthy businessman’s home computer about “where to commit a murder” and if a prisoner can continue to control his real estate properties.
Prosecutors quoted incriminating taped conversations between the husband and wife. From CTV:
Other conversations, secretly recorded by police, reveal that the girls’ father felt betrayed because his daughters had boyfriends, Crown attorney Laurie Lacelle said.
“Even if they hoist me up onto the gallows, nothing is more dear to me than my honour,” Shafia said, according to Lacelle…
Lacelle continued to quote Shafia: “There can be no treachery, no violation more than this … They committed treason from beginning to end. They betrayed humankind. They betrayed Islam…They betrayed everything.”
Shafia also told his wife: “God’s curse on them for generations. May the devil s— on their graves. Is that what a daughter should be? Would a daughter be such a whore?”
The family purchased the Nissan for $5,000 just days before the killing, another piece of evidence prosecutors are using to demonstrate premeditation.
What evoked their father’s wrath was the daughters’ “Western lifestyle,” including an interest in dating boys and a lack of interest in wearing a traditional Muslim headscarf, the hijab.
According to the Toronto Sun, at one point, daughter Zainab was kept home from school for a year after a boy visited her at home when her father was out.
In 2008, child and youth protective services investigated after a call by school officials but closed the case. On a separate occasion, the children contacted police to report physical abuse at home.
At the canal crime scene, police found plastic shards from a smashed headlight which matched another family car, a Lexus, suggesting the Nissan was nudged into the canal by the Lexus. Prosecutors indicate Shafia tried to stage a fake accident to dispose of the bodies of his daughters and first wife.
After realizing his first wife Rona couldn’t bear children, Shafia married a second wife Tooba (now on trial with him) as is common in the Muslim world. The Globe and Mail reports:
The Shafia family lived in a polygamous arrangement and moved to Canada in 2007, settling in the Montreal borough of St. Leonard after living in Australia, Pakistan and then in Dubai for 15 years.
The Shafias had seven children, three of whom were placed in care by Quebec authorities after their parents’ arrest. All seven are the offspring of Mr. Shafia and Ms. Yahya, whom he married in Afghanistan in 1988.
This is not the first time this Muslim tradition has been imported to North America. Recent “honor killing” cases include:
In October 2009, Iraqi immigrant Faleh Al-Maleki used his car to run over and kill his 20-year-old daughter Noor in Peoria, Ariz. Prosecutors said it was an honor killing because her father felt she shamed the family by becoming “too Westernized” and rejecting an arranged marriage.
Also that year, Muzzammil “Mo” Hassan — the founder of a Muslim television station in Buffalo, NY — was convicted of stabbing his wife Aasiya 40 times, then beheading her while their children were waiting in a parked car outside. He had founded the TV station to counter negative stereotypes about Islam after 9/11.