Two sisters from Terrassa murdered in honour killing during "trap" visit to Pakistan
Two of the six arrested – a brother and uncle of the victims – confess to the police
Terrassa / BarcelonaAbdul explains that the police showed up twice at the property and showed him the photo of the two girls. "Of course I know them. I've crossed paths with them plenty of times in the staircase," he replied. Still, he hadn't seen them for days and didn't even hear a sound in the apartment where they lived, as if no one was there. Abdul is Arooj and Anisa Abbas's neighbour. The two sisters (aged 24 and 21) were killed in Pakistan because they wanted to divorce the cousins they had been forced to marry a year ago. The girls lived with their parents and their three brothers on Historiador Cardús street in Terrassa, in a humble four-story block with no lift and a long steep staircase. The family's name does not appear on the mailboxes and this Tuesday, if you knocked on the door of the house, no one opened.
"The father came to live here with his daughter and older son about five years ago," the neighbour calculates, who can't say when the rest of the family arrived, but it wasn't long ago, about two years. The two older sons worked in shops in the area. The youngest, aged about 12, is still at school. The two girls, on the other hand, neither studied nor worked, according to the neighbour. "They spent the day at home. Only the older one would occasionally go to the shop with her father," he says.
The shop he is talking about is one of those small supermarkets crammed with products where you can find almost anything. The girls' father, Ghulam Abbas, had been working there for about seven years. This Tuesday, however, he did not go to work. Even the owner of the store, Ulfad Raja, left the store in the early afternoon, tired of prying questions.
The confessed perpetrators
The two girls were victims of an honour killing during a "trap" visit to Pakistan, and the confessed perpetrators of the murder are one of their own brothers and an uncle, police sources have told Efe. Four more people have been arrested, all from the girls' families, including their in-laws. The girls had travelled to Pakistan with their mother while their father stayed in Catalonia.
"Their mother's brother Muhammed Hanif and their brother Shehryar have confessed that they killed [Arooj and Anisa] because they wanted to marry other people in Spain", one of the police officers in charge of the investigation, Akhtar Hussain, explained. So-called "honour crimes" are a type of violence against women that usually occurs when the family considers a woman has caused them dishonour. In this case, the alleged dishonour was wanting to divorce.
The Pakistani police arrested six people linked to the double crime on Sunday, and yesterday they were still looking for a seventh individual who was also allegedly involved. According to the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, the in-laws suspected that the girls had intentionally delayed the processing of their husbands' visas so that they could not travel to Spain with them. In fact, the girls' refusal to allow their husbands to accompany them to Terrassa was the motive for the murder. Today, however, it is not known what pretext the family used to get the two girls to travel to Pakistan.
The Mossos d'Esquadra are investigating people close to the sisters in Catalonia and have summoned some of their relatives to testify, such as their father, to know their degree of collaboration in the trip and find out if he was aware of what the rest of the family intended to do. In this sense, the Mossos are working in collaboration with the Prosecutor's Office to discover possible evidence and determine whether the two girls were forced to fly to Pakistan.
A forced marriage
The Pakistani consul in Barcelona, Mirza Salman Baig, explains to ARA that the girls' father has lived in Catalonia since the 1980s and that the rest of the family moved there later. According to the information available to the consul, when the two victims travelled to Pakistan, the two forced marriages –which can be carried out by telephone– had already taken place. Now it has become known that the girls had also said they did not want to leave Terrassa and did not want to live with the men they had been forced to marry. In spite of everything, the consul had not been officially informed of neither of the two forced marriages.
Salman Baig points out that the double murder was committed in Gujrat, in the province of Punjab, where most of the Pakistani population living in Catalonia comes from and the area of the country where most crimes of this kind take place. The police have rolled out a special programme to target forced marriages. The consul recalls that it was the Pakistani police who acted, without the family's request and regrets the two murders that have shaken society.
The city of Terrassa has shown its rejection of the murder with a minute's silence in front of the City Hall. It was attended by the mayor, Jordi Ballart; the Catalan minister for Equality and Feminisms, Tània Verge; local councillors and city council staff, among other people. The girls lived in the neighbourhood of Sant Pere Nord, where their father works. The Generalitat made an official statement condemning the crime and says it is working to clarify "what happened to the two young women".
"Arranged marriages are common in Pakistan. Love grows when you get married and live together," explains Huma Jamshed Bashir, president of the Pakistani Women's Cultural Educational and Social Operative Association, who claims that even girls who were born in Catalonia but belong to Pakistani families are forced to travel to their parents' country of origin to marry a man with whom they have never had any relationship. That is why she is in favour of limiting the right to residence for those who marry a Spanish resident.
Alba Alfageme, a psychologist specialising in gender violence, also confirms that forced marriages are a reality in Catalonia. "It seems that they are far away, but they are right next door. The fact that they are not seen does not mean that they do not exist", she emphasises. And it doesn't only happen with girls of Pakistani origin, but also from other countries. In fact, in Catalonia there is a protocol on forced marriages. Now what is needed is to raise awareness around the issue, Alfageme continues. "It is important that these young girls can look up to other girls who have said no and have come out ahead," she stresses.
But this is not so easy. Verónica Santos, who is the director of the Institut Miquel Tarradell, located in Barcelona's Raval neighbourhood and which has a high percentage of students from Pakistani families, explains that forced marriages usually take place when the girls have already left school. That is why she is in favour of girls continuing their studies and going to university. This, she says, is the best antidote to give them the tools to resist the family's will.