The High Price of Freedom Honor Killing Victim Wanted to Live Like other German Girls
Part 2: 'You Are Bringing Shame to the Family'
Morsal attended the Ernst-Henning-Strasse Schule, an elementary and junior high school in Hamburg's Bergedorf neighborhood with students from 18 different countries. In the same neighborhood, near a pedestrian zone, she would often get together with friends after school. It was not a very attractive place to meet but, being in a different neighborhood, it offered Morsal and her friends an opportunity to get away from their families. There they could hang out, smoke, listen to music and occasionally drink alcohol. Morsal liked hip-hop music and Afghan pop. She was 16 and not unattractive to the boys.
"She was outspoken and spirited," says Helmut Becker, the deputy principal at her school, "and she was never shy about contradicting people." Morsal took part in a project that involved students educating other students. She was even awarded a certificate that identified her as a "conflict mediator."
There are many files about Morsal Obeidi, filled with the sparse comments of the many Hamburg agencies with which she came into contact over the years: the youth welfare agency, the school authority, the police. The files describe Morsal as a relatively poor student. In January 2007, the principal of her school, Dorit Ehler, informed her that she would not be able to complete the requirements to graduate from the vocational-track high school she was attending. Ehler informed the parents that she planned to keep Morsal back a grade, but that perhaps something could be worked out. The parents, however, had made up their minds long before, and they withdrew their daughter from the school.
Morsal, unlike her older sister, was obstinate. She was 14 when she began to resist her parents' authority. She was tired of being complacent, of living according to the old Afghan rules, which seemed irrelevant to her life in Hamburg. She argued with her parents about her appearance and her behavior, her uncovered hair, her makeup, her tight jeans and about smoking and drinking. They argued about her friends and acquaintances. For former fighter pilot Ghulam-Mohammed Obeidi, the family's reputation was at stake. It was the only thing he had left to lose.
A Father and Son Turned Violent
The police say that he became violent, and so did his son Ahmad. They were losing control over Morsal, and losing their self-control in the process. "You are bringing shame to the family," they said to her.
Morsal fled repeatedly.
At 14, she was already a regular visitor to welfare agencies, especially the Children's and Youth Emergency Service (KNJD) on Hamburg's Feuerbergstrasse -- a three-story, red brick building, and not the sort of place people seek out unless they have no place else to go. The children and adolescents who came to the KJND were put up in single rooms, each with a bed, mirror and sink. The comments in Morsal's record reveal a pattern. Two sentences that appear frequently are: "Admitted to the KJND" and "Morsal checked out of the facility."
Morsal was most afraid of her brother Ahmad. While she began to feel at home in Germany, he lost the ability to strike a balance between his family's old and new worlds. He dropped out of school. His German was poor. He began drinking, and by 13 his name had appeared in police records for the first time. Since then, Ahmad has faced criminal charges roughly 30 times -- for offences like assault, harassment and burglary.
On Jan. 20, 2007, for example, he got into his car, drunk. He stopped at a light and attacked four men, beating one of them with a club and stabbing another in the thigh with his knife. When the police arrived at the scene, he faced them with a broken bottle in his hand.
A number of attacks on Morsal are also noted in his police file. But most of the attacks were never reported -- or documented. According to police records, Ahmad beat up his sister on Nov. 1, 2006. The older sister, the report reads, scratched Morsal in the face as she was lying on the ground. There were more blows on Nov. 8, 2006. This time Ahmad threatened her with a knife, but without using it. He shouted at Morsal, accusing her of violating the family honor. Morsal filed a complaint against her brother, and she was returned to the KNJD. On Jan. 19, 2007, Ahmad allegedly beat her up again, this time in the office of the family's used car and bus dealership. His sister dressed like a slut, Ahmad told the police.
Perhaps Ahmad already sensed that he was a failure, and that he had messed up his life. But according to a relative, he loved Morsal. The youth welfare agency's files refer to their relationship as "highly ambivalent." Morsal was afraid of Ahmad, but he was also a refuge, and sometimes she spent the night in his apartment. The two shared a common fear of their father. Morsal confided in a member of the KJND staff, telling her "she felt closest to her brother, even though she also had many disagreements with him."
In early March 2007, the family sent Morsal to stay with relatives in Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan. They wanted her to study the Koran and familiarize herself with prayer, and to shed everything that was German about her, the many bad influences and her supposedly dishonorable life. The parents, who had told their daughter that the trip was to be a vacation, soon returned to Germany. But Morsal was kept behind for nine months -- to be reeducated.
In Afghanistan she lived with her cousin, Yussuf Obeidi, a stately man in his mid-fifties. She attended a Koran school, filling her notebook with surahs, which she wrote down onomatopoeically using German letters. "Morsal was here because she wanted to be here," the cousin claims.
Defending Family Property
The Obeidis are not a noticeably conservative family. Nevertheless, it valued traditions, and one of them was to defend the family's property: zar (gold), zamin (property) and zan (women). In their traditional world, it was set in stone that these things are the property of the man.
Morsal was allowed to return home to Hamburg in January of this year. She later told the police that she had been taken to Afghanistan to be married there, and that she was only able to return to Germany by promising to obey the family.
These are the statements of a 16-year-old girl. The father, standing at the door of the family apartment in the Rothenburgsort neighborhood -- a pale, gaunt man -- has no comment.
A friend would later say that Morsal had a baby in Afghanistan. But the police say that they have no knowledge of a birth. The situation became more acute seven weeks before Morsal's death. The staff of the youth welfare agency tried to remove Morsal from her parents' apartment. On April 11, both Morsal and her parents agreed that she would move to a facility in another city, Flensburg. According to the youth welfare agency's files, "Hamburg was a dangerous place in every respect" for Morsal.
On April 25, Morsal decided to leave the Flensburg home. According to her record, she "wanted to live with her family again, but only if the parents did as she wished." The youth welfare office discussed the matter with the family. The father agreed to take in Morsal again, but only if she "obeyed the family rules."
The father was hoping for a new Morsal, and Morsal was hoping for a new father. Both were disappointed.
Morsal began staying out all night. The police have learned that when she returned to her parents on May 11, after being away for three days, her father immediately began beating her. Morsal fled to her room, where she tied together sheets and lowered herself from her window. But when she reached the ground, her 13-year-old brother tried to choke her and beat her, knocking out one of her teeth. Morsal returned to the youth welfare agency, where the staff tried to convince her to return to the home in Flensburg. An official at the youth welfare agency wrote in her file: "She should not be given any other opportunity than to return to the girls' facility." But Morsal was against the idea and was released.
But she didn't go home this time, and the parents reported her as missing. A friend told them that Morsal was staying in an apartment in the city's Billstedt neighborhood.
The Obeidis went to the apartment, where another argument broke out. The father, according to the youth welfare agency's file, beat the daughter relentlessly, and the argument "ended in the police being called to the scene."
Perhaps it was on that day that Ahmad, the brother, devised his murderous plan. On the evening of May 15, he made his way to the Berliner Tor train station. He should have been in prison at the time. In October 2007, Ahmad had been sentenced to one year and five months in prison without parole. He received a court order to begin serving his sentence on May 2, 2008. But on May 9, his attorney petitioned the court to postpone the sentence. The court denied the petition on May 15.
But by then it was too late for Morsal Obeidi.
It was the night she encountered Ahmad on the small parking lot across the street from the train tracks -- a fatal night for two siblings who no longer knew exactly where they belonged.
Traces of Morsal's blood remained behind on the concrete in front of the building's garage. Three days later, all that remained were a few dark spots, as black as motor oil.
JOCHEN-MARTIN GUTSCH, PER HINRICHS, SUSANNE KOELBL, GUNTHER LATSCH, SVEN RÖBEL, ANDREAS ULRICH
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan.
- Part 1: Honor Killing Victim Wanted to Live Like other German Girls
- Part 2: 'You Are Bringing Shame to the Family'