dead invade serial murders trial
was easy for the police as the Yemen Ripper confessed to
killing girl students. Then 'victims' turned up alive,
reports Brian Whitaker.
Originally published in The Observer, 11
has been shaken by a grisly and baffling murder drama in which at
least two women have died, their alleged killer has confessed to
more crimes, and some of his 'victims' have made a surprise
appearance - alive and in court at his trial.
The 'murders in the
morgue' case has led to allegations that it is linked to a trade
in body parts. It began on 10 May, when two mutilated female
bodies were found at the university in Sana'a, the capital. Two
days later, police arrested a mortuary technician at the medical
school, saying he had confessed to raping and killing five women.
Muhammad Adam Omar, a
45-year-old Sudanese, not only admitted a growing number of
murders - 16 in Yemen and at least 24 in Sudan, Kuwait, Chad and
the Central African Republic - but named members of the
university's teaching staff who, he said, were involved in a
racket for sale of body parts.
He had enticed women
students to the mortuary with promises of help in their stud ies,
then raped and killed them, videotaping all his actions. He kept
bones as mementos, disposed of some body parts in sewers and the
university grounds and sold others together with his victims'
belongings. Newspapers published pictures of the accused, looking
wild-eyed behind the bars of his cage, and - although he was
described as a drunk and drug addict - everyone seemed ready to
believe his story.
Yemen's students took to
the streets. Thousands marched, demanding that Adam be executed.
Why, people asked, had the university not done more to protect its
students or investigate the disappearances? The Prime Minister
suspended the dean of the medical school and his deputy and sacked
the university's head of security.
Such was the atmosphere
that when the trial started, Adam's defence lawyer felt unable to
appear in court. But Adam said he didn't mind.
Adam gave police all the
help they needed. His statement said the first killing occurred in
1995, when he met Fatima, a Somali girl, in the centre of Sana'a
and convinced her that he was a well-known professor at the
medical school. Lured by money, she visited him repeatedly at the
mortuary, where he had sex with her more than 12 times before
killing her. In 1996, another young woman came to the mortuary to
collect body parts. As she entered, he sprayed a chemical on her
face, rendering her unconscious. Then he realised her friend was
outside, so he invited her in, repeated the process, and disposed
of the unconscious bodies in acid.
The confession went on
and on, murder after murder: an open-and-shut case, or so it
appeared until newspapers published the names of the women Adam
had confessed to killing. Several of his 'victims' then turned up
One was Nada Yassin, who
left her family home in Abu Dhabi in 1991 to study medicine at
Sana'a university. According to her sister, Aisha, she was in
touch with her family regularly until October 1998 when telephone
calls ceased and she stopped collecting her monthly allowance.
After his arrest, Adam identified Nada from a photograph and
described in detail how he had killed her.
But when the trial
resumed on 3 June, a woman cloaked in black, with only a narrow
slit for her eyes, announced to the startled court that she was
Nada Yassin.Aisha, who was also in court, confirmed her identity.
Not everyone was
convinced. A journalist noted that the woman in black looked
different from photographs of Nada and some of the things she said
in court did not tally with what her relatives had said earlier.
Two other women contacted
the Associated Press news agency, saying they were medical
students who had been reported murdered by Adam. A doctor, Amira
al-Tawati, who graduated from the medical school in 1993, also
claimed that she was listed among the victims.
Adam, who has retracted
his confession, now says he killed 'only' two women. The police
insist they have parts from at least five separate bodies.
Forensic experts say they have found the bodies of boys, as well
as girls, which are not listed in the mortuary records.
One of the two dead
students who have been identified was Iraqi-born Zainab Saud Aziz,
22, who disappeared last December. Relatives believe she was
abducted while on her way to testify to a university inquiry about
grade-rigging by fellow students. The other was Hossn Ahmad
Attaiah, a member of one of Yemen's largest and most influential
tribes, the Hamdan. Her tribe has already caused disturbances in
court and is threatening action if Adam's presumed accomplices are
not brought to justice.
Last week three members
of the university's teaching staff - a Yemeni, an Iraqi and a
Sudanese - were arrested. They had been named by Adam as involved
in trading body parts. It was also disclosed that last December
the university had sacked Adam for bribery, but had then
mysteriously reinstated him.
The case has brought out
attitudes and prejudices rarely expressed directly. In a country
with high unemployment, Adam is an immigrant with a job. A union
leader has said that the employment of a foreigner as a university
technician contravened a presidential decree. Fearful of a
backlash, the Sudanese community, several thousand strong, has
condemned Adam's 'heinous crime'.
the case is further proof that educating women can only lead to
trouble. In such a climate the presumption is that when a young
woman goes missing she has gone astray morally. Zainab's mother
was allegedly told to search the dance floors when she reported
her daughter's disappearance.