Banaz Mahmod’s body was found in a suitcase after she refused to give in to her family
by: Steve Bird
Watch the video footage recorded by Banaz Mahmod
A gentle kiss on a South London street captured on a mobile telephone camera sealed Banaz Mahmod’s fate.
When the photograph, taken by a member of the Kurdish community, was shown to Miss Mahmod’s uncle, Ari Mahmod, a family meeting was called where it was decided that the 20-year-old woman and her boyfriend, Rahmat Sulemani, must be murdered.
From the viewpoint of her uncle, a prominent figure among South London’s Kurds, and her father, Mahmod Mahmod, she had already walked out of an arranged marriage and was now bringing further shame on the family.
Two months later, Miss Mahmod vanished. None of her family reported her missing. Only Mr Sulemani went to the police to say that his girlfriend’s worst fears had come true.
Three months later, her naked body was found crammed into a suitcase and dumped in a 6ft makeshift grave below a pile of bin bags, a rusting fridge and a discarded television in a back garden in Birmingham. The bootlace that was used to strangle her was still tied around her neck.
Born in the Kurdish region of Iraq, Miss Mahmod came to England at the age of 10 with her family when they fled Saddam Hussain’s regime.
While her father, who had served in the Iraqi Army, sought the safety of the West, he was determined to preserve the traditions of his Mirawaldy culture.
A father of six and a strict Muslim, Mahmod Mahmod ruled the family home with a rod of iron. When Bekhal, an older sister, wore Western dress her father called her a whore, beat her and demanded that she wear the veil. She eventually went into foster care and, when old enough, severed all links with the family.
When Banaz Mahmod was 17 she was married to a Kurdish man in the Midlands. It was imperative that the arranged marriage worked because two of Mahmod’s other daughters had ended their marriages.
But the relationship was disastrous; she tried to hang herself and later told police that her husband had raped her. Risking her father’s wrath, she fled her husband and returned to the family home in Mitcham, South London.
She later met Mr Sulemani, an Iranian Kurd, and the pair soon fell in love. Because Mr Sulemani was not a strict Muslim and not from the Mirawaldy region, Miss Mahmod’s father ruled that she would never marry him. To enforce this point, she was taken to a Kurdish home in Sheffield and beaten for two weeks. On her return, the couple continued to meet in secret.
When Ari Mahmod saw the photograph of the embrace, he contacted a gang of Kurdish thugs and planned the murders. In one bungled attempt on New Year’s Eve, Mahmod Mahmod took his daughter to her grandmother’s home in Wimbledon, plied her with drink and told her to wait for others to arrive. Fearing his motives, she fled.
In January last year, Mohamad Hama, 30, along with other Kurdish men, attempted to bundle Mr Sulemani into a car. As Mr Sulemani escaped, Hama shouted after him: “We are Muslim and Kurdish. We are not like the English where you can be boyfriend and girlfriend.”
But a few days later, Miss Mahmod was dead. The night before her murder, she went to the police but refused the offer of a safe house. Torn between her devotion to her family and the belief that her father could not really want her dead, she wrote in her first police statement: “I do not want to leave home or go to a place of safety. I want to stay with my parents.”
In court, it was shown that a series of telephone calls was made between the father and uncle on the day of the killing. The thugs also used a hire car, unaware that it had been fitted with a satellite tracking device, which would prove that they had been to the Mahmod home on the day of her disappearance and later to the house where her body was found.
Today Miss Mahmod’s sister, Bekhal, 22, lives at a secret location and will not leave her home without wearing a full veil in case a contract to kill her remains in force in accordance with her uncle’s desire to see her “turned to ashes”.
After the trial, she said that although life in the family home had been “frightening and intimidating”, she believed that her sister had returned because she thought that her mother could protect her.
“But [in Mirawaldy culture] that’s not the case – the females have to stick by the males, their husbands and fathers,” she said.
Mr Sulemani, who remains under witness protection, continues to mourn the woman whom he planned to marry.
“She was my present, my future, my hope – the best thing that ever happened to me,” he said at the end of the three-month trial. “My life went away when Banaz died. I am heartbroken and falling apart. All the dreams and the hopes are crushed.”
Countdown to a killing
Dec 4, 2005 Banaz Mahmod tells police of her uncle’s threats to kill
Dec 5 Police visit her home. She asks them to leave, adding she does not want to pursue allegations
Dec 12 She gives police a letter naming potential killers
Dec 31 Her father tries to kill her but she flees. WPC Angela Cornes attends. Rahmat Sulemani records Miss Mahmod’s allegations. She returns to his home
Jan 2, 2006 She meets her sisters and mother and is persuaded to return home
Jan 22 A Kurdish gang threatens Mr Sulemani
Jan 23 He reports incident to Kennington police. Miss Mahmod tells Mitcham police of death threats. She refuses a place in a women’s hostel
6.30pm The couple speak secretly on mobile phone
Jan 24 Miss Mahmod is murdered. Police call at the family home. Her father says she is out
Jan 25 Police visit her parents who say they do not want to report her missing
Jan 26 Police class her as a high-risk missing person
Jan 27 Full-scale investigation is launched
April 28 Her body is found in a suitcase in Birmingham
— Extracts from Banaz Mahmod’s account of how her father tried to kill her, filmed in hospital on her boyfriend Rahmat Sulemani’s mobile phone:
"He said: “I brought you some beer that you can drink.” He asked me if I had ever drunk before. I said no, never. He gave it to me and said open it up and drink it bit by bit. He said I have to drink half the bottle.
"We were in the living room, the curtains were all shut and the room was dark. He said: “Turn your back to me.” I turned around every now and then I was looking. I didn’t turn my back fully on him. I was sitting sideways to him.
"He asked me: “How do you feel now?” I told him I feel hot. He said: “Where, in your chest?” I said yes. I got up and stumbled. I was really dizzy. He asked me, do I want to sleep? I said no.
"I finished the drink, I finished all of it. He got up and went over to the other room. He came back into the room. He was wearing black Reebok trainers and blue gloves. But they were in different colours, one was blue and the other was white. I was really scared. I got up to leave the room and I went towards my dad. I was trying to get to the front door but he said: “Sit down, sit down. You are sleepy.” And I did so.
"Then he went to the other room. At this point I looked at the door, I went towards the back garden door. The key was in the door, so I opened the door. Then I smashed two windows, one of them with this hand and the other with this hand. But no one came to help me, and then I ran to a fence and jumped over it."