Al-Ahram Weekly Online   30 March - 5 April 2006
Issue No. 788
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Family defends murder suspect

The family of Mohamed Ali, who is accused of the gruesome murder of 10 people in Al-Minya last December, claim he was forced to confess of a crime he did not commit. Pierre Loza listens

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In the aftermath of the Al-Minya serial killings, government claims that the acts were committed by a deranged individual have come under question. Members of the alleged killer's family have disclaimed their previous confessions, claiming the testimonies were obtained through torture.

"On the second day of my son's detainment, they told me that some security officials from Cairo wanted to speak with me. One of them wanted to make a deal. He said that if my son confessed, they would issue him a document saying he was mentally ill and therefore not responsible for his actions," says Ali Mohamed, the father of Mohamed Ali -- the man Egyptian authorities believe single-handedly carried out the killing and bodily mutilation of 10 people in the small village of Shamseddin last December.

Mohamed maintains that throughout his son's preliminary detention period of nearly five days, officials wanted him to talk his son into confessing, and when he would not accept they resorted to physical torture. "I was staying in the investigator's room and I would see them through the key hole bringing an electric chair for my son," Mohamed said. "After that I would hear his screams."

According to Mohamed, after his son had confessed to committing the murders he was forced by security officials to leave his home in Shamseddin and sell his land. "They made us sell our land at a third of its price and leave our home," Mohamed says. "They said there was no way out of doing so because the order came from above.

Mohamed, a retired government electrician who was able to buy land after receiving a pension, claims his son had nothing to do with the killings. "As was his habit, my son left for the dawn prayers on the night of the murders, and then he went to water some crops left over from the previous night. When I told the security people that, they told me to talk properly, at which point beatings followed," he said.

Mohamed was a business partner of one of the victims, Mohamed Yehia, with whom he shared a plot for seven years where they grew cauliflowers. Yehia was murdered along with his wife and two of his children.

Mohamed Ali's 65-year-old mother; Zeinab Ahmed, endorsed her husband's testimony and said that at the Beni Mazar central police station the whole family had been subjected to both physical and emotional abuse. She said that while they were being questioned security officers would not allow her daughter-in-law to breast feed her baby for three days. "If Mr Talaat El-Sadat hadn't helped us we would never have told anyone these things," Ahmed said.

Mounoufia parliament member Talaat El-Sadat recently held a press conference in Cairo at which the family's ordeal was revealed to the public. Through the efforts of a defence team hired by Sadat the prosecutor-general has ordered another hearing to allow the family to testify without external pressure.

Ahmed and an older daughter say they witnessed the moment when Ali confessed. "After I kept refusing to testify that I washed my brother's bloody galabeya they called someone in who placed a stick below my knees and tied my hands under it and then beat me," Mervat Ali, said. "When they saw that I wouldn't change my testimony, they said they were going to bring in an electric chair from Al-Minya." Later Ali was joined by her two daughters and her mother. "They brought us all to Mohamed, who was nearly unconscious," she said. "They threatened to torture his mother, sister and nieces." Ali said that when her brother saw her daughters he agreed to say whatever the police wanted. "He only confessed on the fifth day because that was when they brought me and my daughters in," she said.

After her brother was captured, the Egyptian press reported that Ali had washed the blood off her brother's galabeya, something she adamantly denies. "My other brother, Talaat, came in at dawn and asked my husband to and go look for Mohamed because he had left the house to attend prayers and water the crops. Talaat was worried that if my father woke up and didn't find him he would be angry with Talaat for letting him go by himself. Then they came up with the galabeya washing story," she says.

Investigators' suspicions were further increased by her husband's dawn search for Ali. Mervat Ali also allegedly visited her parent's house at dawn to check on her brother just minutes before the killings were discovered.

Others, however, are less sure of Mohamed Ali's innocence. "The boy has a dark past," Mohamed Fahmi, the village Imam, says. A year ago Ali was accused of being on a neighbour's roof with a knife in his hands. His father claims there were no witnesses to this incident, and it was settled by an informal assembly of the families involved and Ali's father was asked to pay LE2,500, which was later returned to him.

"The boy confessed to me personally that he did jump on the roof of neighbour Mohamed Abu Radi," Fahmi said. Radi himself remembers vividly his confrontation with Ali in the middle of the night. "He stepped on my mother-in-law's foot while she was asleep next to her daughters. Hearing her screams, I tried to subdue him but he had a knife, so I went to get something to hit him with. By the time I got back he had jumped across the roof back to his own home," Radi said. According to Radi, Mohamed had changed his clothes and pretended to be asleep when confronted by Radi.

According to many of the villagers, there was a noticeable change in Ali's character after his release from the army. "Before he served in the army in Suez he was just a regular peasant with tattered clothes," said villager Ibrahim Ali. "After that period he began to pay a lot of attention to how he looked. He used to work in the fields in a freshly-ironed g alabeya, polished shoes, and sometimes even sun glasses." Ibrahim Ali claims that Ali had a fascination with an especially violent film called The Magic Sword.

A leading member of the investigation team, who preferred not to be named, insists there was no foul play in the way the case was conducted. "We had two leads to work with. One was that it was done by a gang of people, the second was that it was done by someone with mental issues," the official said. The next step was to narrow down the possibilities by looking into the mental profiles of villagers. "At that point we discovered that Mohamed had returned home at around dawn, when he had a wrangle with his father who refused to let him inside the house," he said. Although the family denies this, there are witnesses who noticed some activity around Mohamed Ali's house at this time.

"We never tortured him, the problem was that because of his personality disorder the boy would confess and then change his mind," the official said. He argues that the security forces had no way of knowing where the mutilated genitalia of the victims were hidden without Ali's help. "To this day we haven't found the murder weapon. If we were framing him why wasn't there a knife thrown into the murder scene to complete the puzzle?" he asks. The official further said that DNA tests have revealed that blood on Ali's shoes came from one of the victims. "The most that boy got was a couple of slaps because he kept changing his testimony and provoking people," the official said.

Ali's lawyer; Raafat Abdel-Hamid, believes the Ministry of Interior's actions throughout the case were a sham. "Why did the minister of interior say that the authorities were searching for Mohamed for four days after the murders when he was in their custody?" he wonders. Abdel-Hamid claims he has been prevented from seeing his client to obtain his consent to a power of attorney document which would give him access to the case file. "The civil rights committee has asked for access to Mohamed, who is currently under observation at the Abbassiya Hospital's psychiatric ward. But, it was refused by the prosecutor general. Why this lack of transparency? Why won't they let anyone from his family see him?"

A recent newspaper report said Ali was tied with metal chains to his hospital bed. His observation period has been extended by hospital authorities for an additional 45 days.

Ali is alleged to have committed the murders in three separate homes last December and of mutilating the genitalia of his victims.

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